One of the more bizarre recent press conferences was all over in a pretty remarkable 11 seconds.
It took place after Manchester United’s last Premiership match of the season.
Manager Jose Mourinho entered the press conference room as many of the journalists were still in the press box to watch players taking part in the traditional end of season lap of honour.
The press officer asked the virtually empty room if there were any questions, and after almost no hesitation added ‘No?’
Mourinho uttered ‘goodbye guys’ before the press officer added: “No questions? Thank you. We tried.”
The bizarre scene, which appeared to be engineered to avoid speaking to the media while still fulfilling contractual obligations, came as the manager was reportedly unhappy about the way his team’s recent form had been questioned in the media.
In most cases though, a press conference can be a highly efficient way of disseminating information to a large number of journalists, both when there is good news to tell and during a crisis media management situation.
Here’s how to hold a more successful one than Mourinho’s effort.
Hold the press conference at a time and place which is convenient to journalists
The brief Mourinho press conference took place in an almost empty room while most reporters were still busy in the press box. If you want to generate good coverage from your press conference and build better relationships with journalists, you need to organise it at a time which is convenient for the media.
Consider the deadlines of the media you want to attract. Generally, the morning is the best time to hold a conference as it increases the number of radio and television bulletins your story could be covered in and ensures you will meet evening newspaper deadlines. Once you have settled on a time, stick to it – don’t start early or late.
Most press conferences take place inside, but if you really do want to hold it outside consider the impact of noisy distraction like traffic and aeroplanes.
Additionally, make sure your venue has parking spaces the media can use.
If time-pressed journalists are going to make the effort to leave their office and attend your press conference you need to reward them by providing some strong content. It needs to be newsworthy and supported by examples to make messages memorable. If the press conference is being called as part of an ongoing story, carefully consider what new information you have to tell the media.
Open the press conference by telling journalists your strongest information to capture the media’s interest at the earliest opportunity.
Limit your speakers
You want a consistent and clear message to emerge from your press conference and one of the best ways to avoid any contradictions is to limit the number of spokespeople. Ideally, there should be one spokesperson and certainly no more than two. Press conference spokespeople need to have had recent media training and preferably had some prior press conference experience.
Have a press officer present
A press officer should act as a moderator at a press conference and help keep proceedings under control. They should welcome reporters at the start of the event, ensure they know whether questions can be asked, and draw the press conference to an end.
The question of questions
You don’t have to take questions at a press conference but it is generally advisable to take some. Apart from anything else it creates an impression of transparency and honesty. Think in advance about how many questions your spokesperson is prepared to face. If you choose not to take questions, or only want to answer a few, make sure the media are aware before you start.
If you are happy to take questions, make sure your spokesperson has prepared for any likely negative ones.
Know your press conference escape route
The end of a press conference can become messy unless there is a clear strategy in place. It is important that your spokesperson can easily exit the press conference room once proceedings have come to an end. Make sure they know where to go and stress the importance of not turning back to answer any lingering questions once they have decided to go.
Hold a mock press conference
On our media training courses we always stress the value of holding mock interviews as part of the preparation. And it is the same for press conference. Your spokespeople need to run through what they intend to say at the press conference and make sure they face some challenging questions from the floor. This is also a good time to ensure they know what to do at the end of the real event.
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