How to End Interviews When the Reporter Wants to Keep Talking

Last week, actor Robert Downey, Jr. walked out of an interview. He (and his publicists off camera) didn’t like the personal nature of a reporter’s line of questioning during a press junket for the new Avengers movie, so Downey unceremoniously stood up and walked out of the room. Interview over.

Yesterday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake walked away to end a live interview with CNN. They didn’t want to answer any more of CNN’s Don Lemon questions regarding the riots in Baltimore, and were visibly frustrated with Lemon asking the same question. Live on CNN, the governor and mayor unceremoniously turned their back to the video camera (and the CNN audience) and walked away. Interview over.

Or is it?

In both of these cases, reporters asked questions that the interviewees did not want to answer. Walking away may have initially ended the interview. However, it inadvertently started a new, longer story — the story of them walking away and “dodging” media questions. Now, everyone is paying more attention to an interview that may or may not have captured their attention just because of the dramatic ending.

The media is always going to ask uncomfortable or possibly repetitive stories, and as interview subjects, you have the right to not answer or end the interview. It’s how you do that though that cements whether or not you’re giving that reporter or media outlet a whole another story to run.

Here are two ways to attempt switching the questions or gracefully ending an interview:

  • “I’d rather not focus on [insert uncomfortable topic here], but discuss [insert your key message here].” This approach might have been helpful for Downey’s interview situation. To use a boxing analogy, he could have bobbed away from discussing his past problems with addiction and weaved the interview back to talking about the greatness (hopefully) of the second Avengers movie.
  • “I really appreciate your time and questions, but we need to go now. [said while shaking the reporter’s hand]” This strategy could have helped Hogan and Rawlings-Blake create a more graceful exit rather than appearing as if they were avoiding answering media questions about their response to the riots.

The moral of this story for interviewees should always be “Keep calm and carry on.” If you don’t let eager and/or annoying reporters from getting under your skin and find ways to switch focus or end interviews gracefully, you’ll appear in control to the viewing audience and ultimately, deflate the possibility for the “so-and-so walked out of an interview” stories.

What’s your best line or method for changing the question or ending an interview? Share your suggestions in the comments below.