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Four Tips for Holding a Successful Press Conference

by Rich Tucker
June 01, 2002

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? And if your organization hosts a press conference and nobody quotes from it, was it worth your time?

The answer to the second question is clearly “no.” Fortunately, there are a few simple rules you can follow to make it more likely reporters will use the information you provide in your press conferences.

1. Speak to the cameras. 

Everyone has been to a lecture where the speaker reads from notes, looking up only occasionally at the end of sentences. It’s boring, and it’s bad television. If you talk to the podium, it’s less likely your message will be used on the 11 o’clock news.

Make sure you know ahead of time what you want to say, and say it directly to the reporters and the cameras. Look down only if you need to cite specific facts or figures.

2.  Don’t waste time.

It’s tempting to begin every press conference by reading a laundry list of “thank you's:”  To your organization president, to your financial supporters, to the researchers who’ve dug up the information you’re providing. Don’t.

Skip the kudos and get straight to the substance. After you’ve provided your soundbites, there will be plenty of time for thanking people. And that way, if the reporters pack up and leave early, they won’t miss anything important. Which brings us to:

3.  Start and finish on time.

Your time is valuable, and tightly budgeted. So is the reporters’. If you keep reporters waiting, they’ll get restless. They might leave, and even if they stay they’re less likely to end up using the information you’ve provided if they’re angry at you for keeping them waiting. 

Of course, some reporters will arrive late. This is actually to your advantage. A reporter who feels bad about inconveniencing you is probably more likely to use your quotes. So make sure you’ve scheduled time after the press conference, to speak with those reporters and repeat the things you said at the beginning. That way, you’ll get your message out to everyone, without keeping the many on-time arrivals waiting for the benefit of the few late-comers.

4. Keep it simple.

A producer at CNN used to tell his reporters, “My 80-year-old mother will be watching.  Make sure she understands everything you say!” That doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down. But, it does mean you should speak in plain English and avoid acronyms and jargon.

For example, if you say, “It’s a good idea for the President to leverage our security assets by folding the U.S.S.S. and Coast Guard into the O.H.S. under the purview of a cabinet-level official,” nobody outside the Beltway is going to know what you’re talking about. 

Say the same thing in straightforward language: “The President should improve national security by putting the Secret Service and the Coast Guard under the control of a cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security.

Of course, it’s okay to use an acronym when it has become common. People are familiar with the I.R.S. and the NASDAQ stock exchange, so use those terms instead of referring to the Internal Revenue Service or the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations. If you follow these rules, it’s more likely the reporters will use your soundbites, and their readers and viewers will hear your message. And that’s a sound you want everyone to hear.

Rich Tucker is Manager of Professional Development and Training for The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy.


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