How to Not Screw up an Amazing Press Conference

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A good press conference has some very important elements.

  1. It shares an angle.

A good press conference does more than merely share facts. A good press conference provides an angle or an interesting story that journalists and the media can latch on to. This is a critical element of a press conference because if an angle for a story is not presented, then newsgroups might form their own angle and you may not like the story that they end up sharing.

  1. It provides the right atmosphere. This means including things such as:
    1. A good backdrop that is positioned behind speakers. It might contain a logo or links that direct viewers to places where they can learn more.
    2. Good audio connections.
    3. Adequate lighting.
    4. The right speakers. Pick representatives that are directly related to the issue at hand and can provide adequate information. Also, consider if a moderator would help direct questions.
  1. Good responses to questions

This is probably one of the hardest parts of a good press conference. Keeping the story on-topic and making sure that the right details are shared can be hard to do. It’s best to prepare beforehand possible responses to questions and most importantly be prepared to point out questions that are not on topic or within the scope of what you’d like to share at the conference.

1st Case Study; Death on the Show COPS

RAW: Police give update on deadly officer-involved shooting that killed "COPS" TV staffer, suspect
Sets An Appropriate Tone

When Officer Schmaderer steps up to the podium, he has already adopted the right attitude to talk about this issue. You can see in the way he carries himself, the reverent tone of his voice, and in the pace with which he answers questions, that this is a somber occasion.

The press conference is being held well within 24 hours of the event. This shows a level of competency and transparency with the media.

Solid Angle

This press conference delivers a clear angle for the media to adopt. Officer Schmaderer demonstrates feelings of grief and sorrow for what happened. He expresses his condolences for Bryce Dion and Cortez Washington.

The deliverable story is that a mixup involving an airsoft gun being used in an armed robbery lead to the death of Cortez Washington and Bryce Dion and the injuring of another Police Officer. Even though all the injuries sustained were friendly fire, the Omaha Police Department can walk away from this crisis with a transparent, level headed reputation.

The angle could have been construed to present the Omaha Police Department as incompetent officers who don’t know how to identify the pop of an airsoft gun from the bang of a pistol. Leading them to shoot one of their own officers as well as a production crew member. However, because of the reverent tone of this conference along with the facts and a large amount of details that are shared a short few hours after the event, this crisis was probably largely avoided.

Excellent Speakers

The setting for this press conference is being held at the Omaha city Police Headquarters with the producers of COPS who flew in to be apart of the conference, as well as the Mayor of Omaha. This clearly shows a level of transparency and seriousness. On the wall behind the speakers is the Omaha City Police Badge, nearby is the American flag. There are adequate audio connections and good lighting.

Officer Schmaderer fielded questions very well, even correcting media when necessary. He was able to handle most of the questions himself but allowed the producers of COPS a few moments to answer some questions as well. He was not afraid to stand at the podium and talk with the media. He knew many of the news teams personally and made the media feel that they were trusted.

2nd Case Study; Texas Tech University COVID-19

Here is a link to this press conference as reported by KCBD Channel 11.

Not a Very Clear Angle

This press conference was largely about the facts. Spring break is being extended and TTU is moving online. There have been some suspensions made to student athletics. None of the speakers provide much context into what this might look like, or more importantly why these precautions are necessary.

It might be easy to construe that Texas Tech is reacting to the COVID-19 virus and doesn’t seem to understand or grasp why they are taking the precautions that they are taking. Maybe Texas Tech doesn’t have a sure footing in its movement forward. Perhaps this university is just trying to follow the trends of businesses and governments before them in an attempt to keep their face clean.

This news conference feels like a bit of a scramble with many of the speakers rambling and diverting onto tangents. Prepared, and rehearsed messages appear more controlled, trustworthy and authoritative.

Adequate Setting and Speakers

Texas Tech does a good job of getting somewhat in front of the story in this case. There were no cases in Lubbock that we knew of at this point. So, coming forward with the details of a plan to keep cases down among college students shows some good foresight.

The setting for the press conference had a good backdrop, with good lighting and sound.

The speakers selected were relevant to the issue and answered questions in a way that shed more light on what they were doing to prepare. However, sharing more than just facts and details would have given Texas Tech more control over how this press conference gets reported.

3rd Case Study; Miami University COVID-19

Live Press Conference from Miami University - February 2, 2020

This press conference is a good example of a bad press conference.

No Angle

This press conference didn’t do much other than share the simple fact that there were no cases at Miami University at the time this conference was held. Questions from the media that probed beyond that fact were turned away. There is very little transparency and very little information being shared. The reporters who attended might even feel annoyed that they brought their camera crew and equipment for a small piece of information that could have easily fit into an email.

Terrible Setting and Atmosphere

The lighting in the room is a bit dark. The microphones aren’t working. The backdrop for the speakers is merely a projector screen. There are a lot of things that could have been done to improve the atmosphere and setting for this press conference.

The speakers did not rehearse this conference. They stumble a little bit trying to figure out who should answer what questions and they have very little to share.

What’s a PR Professional To Do?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons on

PR specialists have an end-to-end responsibility in handling press conferences. Some responsibilities include:

  • Making sure the media is notified and alerted to the issue
  • Providing contextual information in the form of collateral material like a media kit that will help give journalists background information into the story.
  • Deciding on a clear angle and direction that they want the press conference to take. Whats the story the press should walk away with?
  • Selecting a proper location with enough outlets and accommodations to support journalists and camera crews.
  • Making sure the right people are in the room.
  • Ensuring that speakers understand the message, and have practiced it.
  • Providing accessory details that can be used in responding to questions as well as coming up with a plan to respond to questions that might lead to a negative portrayal.

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