Mastering the Press Conference

They’re an easy way to ensure the widest coverage of your ‘good news’ story. For those not so good stories, they’re the easiest way to rip off the band aid. But press conferences have evolved a heap over the years, and if you want to master the modern press conference, you need to understand how they work.

THE SET UP: There’s a small pack of camera operators and journalists who normally turn up to media conferences in Perth. If you do a lot of media conferences, you probably recognise the crews by now. If you don’t, let me tell you, it’s not like the movies. Before you come out and play your part, the crews will set their cameras and mic stands. One or two crew might set up some lights. They’ll all help each other and respect their rivals need to capture the same view. I was at a conference recently where the camera operators all shuffled along to make sure they could all see the action equally. A standard press conference in Perth normally has 5 or 6 video cameras, 2 or 3 stills cameras, half a dozen microphones and about 8 or 9 reporters, some holding recording devices.

THE ACTION: I was at a press conference with the Premier a few weeks ago, and regardless to which side of politics you sit on – you must admit that man knows how to master a press conference. For this particular set up, he had the cameras directly in front of him, the journalists to his far left calling out questions. If he’d answered the questions by looking at the journalist, what the cameras would have captured was a profile shot of his right cheek. Instead, while maintaining his forward gaze, he listened to the question coming from his left. He paused, thought about his response, and then looked straight ahead towards the bank of cameras when he answered. It meant that anyone watching that interview on TV or on social media, could see his face – rather than just his profile.

So many lessons here. But the most obvious is understanding your audience is  not the journalist asking questions on the day. The media are your conduit to the real audience. So don’t fret about it feeling uncomfortable responding to someone without ever looking at them.

THE QUESTIONS: without fail the thing I get asked about the most when preparing someone for a press conference, is “what do I do if I’m asked something I don’t know the answer to?”  It’s a valid point, press conferences can take an unusual turn. The Premier was talking about the Claremont verdict when he was asked to comment on puppy farming. It happens. But for this, preparation is key. Take advice, be informed, do your training, and don’t wing it. The Premier was totally prepared for the question, and didn’t flinch. If you genuinely don’t know something you’re being asked, be direct but with a commitment to follow up, investigate or seek out someone with the answers. Or maybe direct the journalist to the correct source.

THE LIVE PACKS: Call it a TVU, a LiveU or whatever you like. TV crews no longer need big satellite trucks parked outside your office to beam the pictures back to a tower. Nowadays, camera crews travel with a small bag, no bigger than my son’s lunchbox. With a simple cord to attach it to a camera, the pictures can be broadcast live. Social media live streaming capabilities, direct from a phone, make it even easier. It means absolutely everything that happens around that microphone pod could either be broadcast live, or will sit in its entirety on a server waiting for someone to view. The lesson? You’re always on…from the moment you’re in ear shot or in view of the cameras, assume you’re being watched.

Media conferences are a great way to get your message out. Do the work to prepare for them, it’s worth it.

Written by

She’s the secret weapon behind a number of highly acclaimed television broadcasts, a producer with more than 20 years’ experience.