tommy gun interview

Trumped by The Tommy Gun

The most important Q&A technique to use when being interviewed by anyone is to WPA: Wait, Pivot, Answer

You may have seen Donald Trump’s stumble on the issue of abortion when CNN’s Chris Matthews asked, during the Town Hall Meeting on March 30th, Trump’s position on the topic.

Take a look:

(via MSNBC)

So what went wrong? Trump fell victim to the Tommy Gun approach to interviewing, when questions come like rapid fire bullets. The tendency is for people to adopt the frenetic energy of the questioner and start to answer without thinking. Suddenly they hear themselves spitting out words, had they taken two seconds to think about, would never have said. How do I know this to be true?

I have been coaching C-Suite and corporate thought leaders, as well as thousands of subject matter experts for 30 years. The most vital technique I give them seems very simple until you’re under the bright lights of a camera or the anxiety and exhaustion of working 16 hour days at industry trade shows.


The technique: WPA…. Wait, Pivot, Answer. It may seem like an hour when under the pressure of a critical audience awaiting your potential hanging, but take two seconds to consider the question before answering.

At the very least, acknowledge the question without using the exact and possibly negative words of the questioner. STAY IN CONTROL OF YOUR CONTENT AND YOUR BEHAVIOR.

For those times you’re taken off guard by the unexpected or prosecutorial question, here’s an example of how to deploy WPA:


“It has been alleged that your latest product is defective. What are you going to do about it?”


Wait: Most likely the questioner, reporter, customer, member of the company board may continue to bear down on you. There is no law requiring you to answer quickly. Change the rhythm of the conversation. If the questioner is pelting you with the Tommy Gun, slow down your answer. It’s up to you to break the rhythm. It shows clear thinking and good judgment if you act in a careful methodical manner.

Pivot: “I hear what you’re saying” (or other words to that effect) Take a breath

Answer: “We are currently conducting tests on the product and once we have concluded our examination we will definitely make an announcement” You can continue by saying, “Our safety record meets and exceeds government and industry standards” (if that’s true) NEVER LIE. With easy access to Internet research, (accurate or not) whistleblowers ever on the rise, plus the smearing tactics of competitors using Social Media you will be haunted the rest of your life if you lie.


I believe the prosecutorial style of interviewing is on the uptick.   With all the avenues for news to reach hungry viewers, broadcast outlets are amping up their approach. Why? The possibility that the Q&A will go “viral” is seductive and contagious.

We even see Megyn Kelly falling prey to this seduction. First claiming that The Kelly File’s demographic is working women or stay at home moms who at the end their day, “drink a glass of Chardonnay and want me to feed the news to them in an easy, breezy manner” says Megyn.

That “easy, breezy manner” was nowhere to be seen at the first Republican debate. She even commented, when interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning, that she likes the attention that the skewering of Donald Trump on his alleged treatment of women has brought her. She admits that Mr. Trump is correct when he claims that her “unfair treatment of him” (meaning her prosecutorial manner) has made her famous. The allegation about his so-called misogynistic tendencies went viral and since then, Megan Kelly is a household name.

Prepare yourself for this trend in prosecutorial type of questioning to continue.


My prediction is that you will see it in all parts of the world where there is access to Social Media outlets.

In fact, it happened a few days ago when the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, stared blankly at the BBC reporter, stood up and walked out of the interview. The reporter had confronted Gunnlaugsson about his hiding millions of dollars behind an offshore investment company as reported earlier in the Panama Papers. When a topic like Panama Papers was as fresh as the morning dew, the Prime Minister needed to be prepared, even if that’s not the topic he agreed to be interviewed on.


Get ready, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

WPA is your key out of jail.

When could you have used WPA to your advantage? Tweet at me @BergonPoint