The Right Way To Run A Press Conference (Video)
It’s easy to find an example of a spokesperson getting a press conference all wrong. It’s less common—and worth noting—when someone gets it exactly right. One such example occurred after Saturday’s plane crash in San Francisco.
Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), faced cameras shortly after the accident to discuss how her agency would handle its investigation. During the first half of her short briefing, Ms. Hersman delivered the information reporters needed to file their stories; during the second half, she took three questions.
Watch this video. It offers spokespersons everywhere a wonderful example of the right way to run a press conference during a crisis.
I was struck by how slowly and deliberately Ms. Hersman spoke. Her controlled pace not only gave reporters sufficient time to jot down notes, but conveyed a strong impression of a person who possessed the confidence and competence to manage the situation.
Ms. Hersman packed a lot of critical information into just two minutes. Her efficiency as a spokesperson leads me to believe that she’d be equally as efficient when leading an investigation.
One small detail: She should tie her hair back better before future outdoor press conferences. I know that’s superficial, but it was impossible not to notice her wrestling with her hair on the windy day. Many commenters in YouTube’s comments section—rarely a beacon of civil conversation—also noted the distraction.
Ms. Hersman took three questions. For each, she repeated the question back, which ensured that every microphone picked it up. She kept her answers short, which limited the number of quotes reporters could run.
Typically, I recommend that spokespersons announce in advance the number of questions they plan to take or the number of minutes available for the question period. Doing so prevents spokespersons from looking like they’re running away when the questions get tough (since they’ve announced their intention to take a specific number of questions in advance, they’re just following through on what they said they’d do).
Ms. Hersman didn’t do that. But it didn’t matter. After taking two questions, she confidently said, “One more question.” How did she make it work when so many others don’t? Because her tone was one of utter confidence throughout the entire briefing, and no one watching the video could reasonably conclude that she was running away from tough questioning. Even the manner in which she walked away showed a woman in complete control.
That’s really the key word with this entire press conference: control. She controlled her own tone, controlled her message, and yes, even controlled the assembled press corps.
A grateful tip o’ the hat to Dave Statter of the fabulous Statter911 blog.
You’ll find more tips about the best way to manage a press conference in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
I was equally struck by how slowly Ms Hersman spoke. And by her confidence. Her performance was remarkable. Well worth studying!
Great post, Brad. I think another facet that made Ms. Hersman’s briefing so successful is her ability to confidently “talk process.” While a couple of the questions called for her to speculate on cause or contributing factors, she masterfully bridged to process and what the mission of the NTSB is in these situations. That’s advantageous for the agency, while at the same time, beneficial to reporters as they have some copy to work with in filing early stories.
I think a lot of folks could benefit simply by watching this and emulating the style, regardless of the situation.
I still marvel at how useful your posts and lessons are to daily life, Brad. I hope you realize that you are doing more than teaching media techniques. You’re teaching communication skills, which everyone needs, regardless of their careers. We all need to express ourselves better.
Thank you so much for those kind words. Sometimes, I’m so focused on media and presentation training that I forget the broader communications impacts – thank you for the reminder!
As for the video, I thought she was wonderful. It’s tough to strike the right balance between confident but not arrogant, in control but not dismissive, composed but not cold. She struck it perfectly.
Thanks for commenting!