When confronted by a barrage of microphones and probing questions you won’t always have “Just watch me” moments. You’re human. You even make mistakes. It’s understandable: cameras and confusion can make media scrums and press conferences intimidating.
It’s important to engage with media. Dealing with media can be an opportunity to showcase recent achievements, share information with key publics, promote your brand or to showcase leadership.
As communicators, it’s our job to coach the spokesperson to handle all types of media inquiries, one of the most important being the press conference or media scrum. So, where do you start?
- Prepare a list of tough questions: You should have a pretty good handle on who your audience is. Prepare a list of questions you anticipate them asking. Dig deep and don’t assume they won’t ask. It’s better to be ready for anything, so you never have to say “no comment”.
- Anticipate audience reactions: What if some of the questions you’re being asked garner unexpected responses or follow-up questions? Answer the questions on your list from all angles, just in case someone reacts adversely to something you say. Know how to rephrase your responses and be sure to stay on message.
- List information not for release: In some sensitive situations, just as important as the key messages are details that are off limits. For example, if the circumstances surrounding the conference are grave, personal information of those involved should not be released. Know what’s off limits before you step up to the microphone.
- Distribute material: You may keep things on track during the conference by having supplementary information readily available to attendees. Factsheets, photos, contacts lists, agenda, maps, company and product information – have these items available in a press kit. This will help journalists covering the story to keep facts straight (timelines, technology specifics) and stay consistent in messaging. It may also cut down on questions and make sure your event runs on time.
- Listen: Now it’s time for the Q&A. This is like the interview portion, so remember to listen to the question. Even though you’ve anticipated a lot of these questions, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what’s being asked. This will allow you to better answer the question the first time, without having to repeat yourself. Seek first to understand.
- Pause: You’ll be answering many questions. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a pause before answering. Make sure you heard the whole question; make clarifications; think about your answer; and respond. If the question has multiple parts, break it up by repeating the part of the question you’re answering. Just take it one step at a time. Pauses are never as long as they seem. So take your time.
- Answer the question: Don’t waste time beating around the bush. Listen to the question. Understand what it is that’s being asked. And answer that question. Keep it as clear and simple as possible. Brevity is sometimes the best way. You’re leading the session, so set the standard for clarity right off the bat.
- Lead with the facts. You won’t be able to divulge everything at a press conference. Be honest about what you know and what you’re working to find out more about. “No comment” is not an acceptable response. But admitting you don’t have all the information yet is more “transparent” than giving journalists the freeze-out.
- Stay on message: It may happen that an attendee at a conference for one event is there to try to inquire into other aspects of your business. Be prepared to get back to journalists with answers to unrelated questions at another time. “Today our focus is _________, but I’d be happy to get in touch with you afterward to answer your questions about __________.” And, sometimes the best way to answer a question is to reiterate a key message.
- Stop Talking: They asked. You answered. That’s all you have to do, so stop talking. Make your point and move on. There’s no need to ramble on or jump around to different topics. If someone repeats the question, answer with your key messages and take the next one. Keep things moving.
- Watch yourself: In all likelihood, the event was taped. Use the video to coach the spokesperson. What went well? What went poorly? Was their body language appropriate? How was the pace? What could have been handled better? Did the audience identify with the spokesperson? It’s important to conduct a little bit of a self-audit because you might need to consider a new spokesperson.
- Learn and correct: Every press conference is a learning experience. Use it to make improvements where you can, in everything from how the event was run to the invitees list and from the venue to the spokesperson chosen. Learn from successes and mistakes to move forward.