What's the best way to prepare for a press conference? The Public Speaker has a 10-point checklist for delivering a strategic and well-organized press conference.
I recently got this question from Godwyn A. from Nigeria, a young professional and frequent listener of The Public Speaker podcast.
“I’m a young Media Relations Officer of a fast-growing, world-class organization. We’re putting on a press conference for an upcoming Memorial lecture. The question is how do I prepare my boss and myself for the press conference?”
Godwyn, as you know, holding a press conference is a great way to get your message out to a wide audience. I like to think of it as a very short speech and a media interview at the same time. As with any public speaking, preparation is time well spent. If you get it right, it could mean significant press coverage for your organization. If you get it wrong, you’ll end up with negative coverage or no coverage at all.
Today, I’ll share my 10-point checklist for delivering a strategic and well-organized press conference:
- Identify the brand adjectives you want to communicate. The words you use to describe your brand will tell your audience how to think of you. Apple often uses words like “innovative,” “powerful," and “next generation” to describe their products. When you create your press conference message, think carefully about the words you use to describe your products and services.
- Pick one main point you want to communicate and stick with it. It should be newsworthy and consistent with your brand. For a press conference announcing an upcoming lecture, your goal may be to introduce the topic of the lecture and the recognized speakers who will participate. For a company announcement, stick to one topic that will grab your target audience’s attention. If you’re announcing a new product or web application, focus on what’s new and why your audience will want it rather than re-hashing old products or past mistakes. You may also want to create written background materials that include prepared statements, a press release, supporting visuals, and supporting social media. These background materials are often helpful for reporters.
- Choose your primary speaker(s). It’s best to choose one or two people only so that your message doesn’t get muddled by too many voices or people trying to talk on top of one another. Choose people who are experienced with the media and who will be available for further interviews afterward. It’s also good to assign one person as moderator whose only job is to control the process. If something goes arwy, the moderator is prepared to say something like: “That’s interesting, however, what we’re here to discuss today is…” Assign one person as moderator whose only job is to control the process.
- Create the story you want to tell. It may be a customer story that explains the need for the product or service you offer. It may be a story of someone who’s life has changed as a result of your work. Make it personal and relatable. Use the elements of storytelling, but condense them to just a few short, powerful sentences.
- Come up with a list of key questions you may be asked. This is similar to preparing for a media interview. Author and journalist Ron Suskind says “The informed, unmanaged question. That's the most dangerous thing at a press conference anywhere.” Try to anticipate what’s coming, so there are no surprises.
- Prepare responses to those questions that are consistent with your brand and that communicate your main objectives. Now that you have a list of questions you expect to be asked, practice answering them. Use the brand adjectives you’ve come up with in your answers. Are there questions you don’t want to answer at a press conference? Think of your list of “off-limits” topics and be prepared to allow the moderator to handle those.
- If there will be more than one person speaking at the press conference, decide who answers which types of questions beforehand. Having experts available to answer some types of questions may give you more credibility. Practice quick and smooth transitions between speakers. The moderator should be responsible for making sure the right person comes to the microphone quickly to respond to a question.
- Set up a mock press conference. Have people there to ask tough questions. Video record your run-through and then review it. If you need to make major changes to your message or delivery, do another run-through as soon as you’re ready. Pay attention to both your verbal and nonverbal messages. Body language often says more than the words you use.
- Choose the right time and place. Press conferences are usually held between early morning and noon. The location should be easy to get to and should provide a strong visual backdrop for your message. If you choose to do your press conference outside, anticipate what types of interruptions you might face. I once watched a press conference in a rural outdoor setting where the speaker’s message was interrupted by a loud and long “moo!” from a nearby cow. Delivery trucks, airplanes, and children playing are all potential disruptions.
- Be ready to welcome reporters before the conference so they have enough time to set up. Start the conference on time then say what you need to say as concisely and simply as possible. The conference should only be as long as it needs to be. There’s no time for PowerPoint presentations, supporting videos, or lengthy speeches. But don’t be so short that it looks like you’re hiding something or makes the media feel like you’ve wasted their time. After you have delivered the prepared portion, ask for questions, then have the moderator wrap up with a prepared conclusion that includes thank-yous.
Oh, one last bonus tip – be sure to review your press conference afterward. If there’s video footage, watch it. Sit down with your staff and review what went well and what could have gone better. Did you get your message across simply and effectively? Are you happy with the press coverage your received? Talk about the types of questions that were asked and how you might have answered them differently. Learn from your successes and your mistakes.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Helping you lead, influence, and inspire through better communication. Do you wish you got an email from me letting you know the new podcast is available? Join my newsletter to get weekly updates and get a free bonus.
Do you struggle with difficult conversations? Do you procrastinate when it comes to delivering feedback? Do you know how to effectively persuade and influence others? Learn this and more in my book Smart Talk. Radio personality, Maureen Anderson called it “The owner’s manual for your mouth!” Visit www.smarttalksuccess.com to get your personally signed copy.