Don’t Repeat the False Premise


It’s an easy trap to fall into — and one I’ve warned about on this blog before. Don’t repeat a false premise!

The headline of a June 22 story posted on tells the story:

“Vonage: ‘We’re Not Toast’.”

You’ll recall that Vonage has been the focus of tremendous scrutiny since its ill-fated IP0 last month. When times get tough like this, communicators must be careful — particularly about buying into a false premise put forward by another. But they must be doubly careful not to repeat it while rejecting it. Why? Read on.

BusinessWeek reported:

Pyramid Research analyst Nick Holland estimates that Vonage losses will increase this year to $330 million. That’s why he issued a report this week suggesting that Vonage may be “toast.”

Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz said the cash burn shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum. “You need to look at customer churn, acquisition costs, and operating losses together to build the business model. My conclusion is we have a healthy business here…We’re not toast,” she said. The real question is whether the company can acquire its customers in an efficient manner and thereby narrow its losses, she says.

See what happened. “Toast” literally became the story. Now, Vonage has to prove that it’s not “toast.” By repeating the false premise, the spokeswoman inadvertently legitimized it.

This, of course, was not the end of the saga. I first learned of this issue in a post on the blog The headline of the post? “Vonage Gets Toasted.”

Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Schulz tried to rebut an analyst who recently said the company might be “toast.” But as far as we can tell, her comments have only helped draw attention to the analyst’s assessment and the “toast” metaphor.

This little episode is fairly self-explanatory. Don’t repeat the false premise. Just reject in yourown language. Otherwise, you might just end up as … well … toast.

Don’t Get Trapped with a False Premise


The “false premise” is well-known to media trainers and other speaking experts. However, when doing a press interview or Wall Street analyst call, it is an easy mistake to make.

What exactly is a false premise? It is a qustion that begins with a premise that the person being interviewed might not agree with. For example, “Why don’t you like the New York Yankees?” This question presumes that the person being questioned is not a Yankee fan, which is OK unless he or she is.

If the person being interviewed is, say, running for elected office in the Bronx, allowing this premise to persist might be a disaster.

So, how should one deal with such a question? Simply put, you need to dispute the premise without making the false premise the focus of the discussion — and, thus, giving it added validity.