Calling a news conference isn’t an easy decision. You don’t know which reporters will show up, especially in an unfamiliar city, and quick-fire questions from reporters can be intimidating. If you make one mistake, it could be tweeted and broadcast. However, a news conference can have its advantages if you know how to maintain control.
A news conference must be set-up for you to have maximum control over what the media captures. At their mid-winter conference, the association members had to sit at one end of a long conference table while reporters sat at the other. For the chiefs, this creates two problems:
- The table is a barrier.
- Sitting down can make you look too relaxed.
To grab your audience’s attention you have to look alert, excited and ready. It's preferable to stand, with the spokesperson in the middle. Instead of a desk or conference table, use a podium. It will also give the broadcast media a place to put microphones for good sound quality.
Strength in Numbers?
There were five participants at this news conference and all did an excellent job of stating their case.
Most of the time, however, holding a news conference with more than one spokesperson is risky. The more speakers, the less control you have over the information that appears on the six o’clock news. Remember, “control” is the key word. If you have five spokespersons, the reporter has too much to decipher, increasing the chances of being unintentionally misquoted. Also, if the reporter has questions later in the day, it’s good to have a designated spokesperson.
More than one spokesperson can work to your advantage at times. An example occurred way back in 1994 (20 years ago!) during a news conference held by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, when they announced that there was enough evidence to warrant further investigation of skater Tonya Harding. They set up a podium, where each member took a turn making a brief, prepared statement. Following that, only the association president answered questions from the media. This way, the association had almost complete control over what aired that night.
At the beginning of their news conference, an association employee set the ground rules. The reporters heard statements, then asked questions for ten minutes only. And sure enough, once that time was up, the president thanked everyone and stepped away.
So You Think You Know It All?
During the news conference, while the cameras were rolling, a reporter had requested some statistics. The exact figures were not known. The best solution to tell the reporter that you will get the information after the news conference. Then make following through a priority. As the chiefs reiterated to me later, “It’s important to establish that kind of relationship with the press.” The next time around, the reporter will rely on you as the expert for their story.
The worst thing you can do is to act like you know something when you don’t. You will be inviting trouble. Remember, video lasts for years; a reporter can use your misquote over and over.
Remember that a reporter’s job is to gather news. So the more control you have over what is released, and the better relationship you have with that reporter, the more accurate the coverage will be.