No matter if it's a crisis of biblical proportions... or just a quarterly earnings call, the key to media interactions is to expect the unexpected. You are unlikely to be able to predict the exact scenario but you can take a look at your organization, anticipate its vulnerabilities and forecast potential storms on the horizon.
Plan well and execute that plan effectively and your organization’s reputation and share price may emerge from the storm unscathed.
- Create your own list of tough questions: You should have a strong sense on who your audience is. Prepare a list of questions you anticipate them asking. Be honest and don’t assume they won’t ask. Be ready for anything, so you never have to say “no comment.”
- Anticipate audience reactions: What if some of the questions you’re being asked garner unexpected responses or follow-up questions? Answer the questions on your list from all angles, just in case someone reacts adversely to something you say. Know how to rephrase your responses and be sure to stay on message.
- List information not for release: In some sensitive situations, just as important as the key messages are details that are off limits. For example, if the circumstances surrounding the conference are grave, personal information of those involved should not be released. Know what’s off limits before you step up to the microphone.
- Make a press kit: You may keep things on track during the conference by having supplementary information readily available to attendees. Factsheets, photos, contacts lists, agenda, maps, company and product information – have these items available in a press kit. This will help journalists covering the story to keep facts straight (timelines, technology specifics) and stay consistent in messaging. It may also cut down on questions and make sure your event runs on time.
- Listen: Now it’s time for the Q&A. This is like the interview portion, so remember to listen to the question. Even though you’ve anticipated a lot of these questions, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what’s being asked. This will allow you to better answer the question the first time, without having to repeat yourself. Seek first to understand.
- Take a breath: You’ll be answering many questions. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a pause before answering. Make sure you heard the whole question; make clarifications; think about your answer; and respond. If the question has multiple parts, break it up by repeating the part of the question you’re answering. Just take it one step at a time. Pauses are never as long as they seem. So take your time.
- Answer the question: Don’t waste time beating around the bush. Listen to the question. Understand what it is that’s being asked. And answer that question. Keep it as clear and simple as possible. Brevity is sometimes the best way. You’re leading the session, so set the standard for clarity right off the bat.
- Lead with the facts. You won’t be able to divulge everything at a press conference. Be honest about what you know and what you’re working to find out more about. “No comment” is not an acceptable response. But admitting you don’t have all the information yet is more “transparent” than giving journalists the freeze-out.
- Stay on message: It may happen that an attendee at a conference for one event is there to try to inquire into other aspects of your business. Be prepared to get back to journalists with answers to unrelated questions at another time. “Today our focus is _________, but I’d be happy to get in touch with you afterward to answer your questions about __________.” And, sometimes the best way to answer a question is to reiterate a key message.
- Stop talking: They asked. You answered. That’s all you have to do, so stop talking. Make your point and move on. There’s no need to ramble on or jump around to different topics. If someone repeats the question, answer with your key messages and take the next one.
- Learn and adjust: Every press conference is a learning experience. Use it to make improvements where you can, in everything from how the event was run to the invitees list and from the venue to the spokesperson chosen. Learn from successes and mistakes to move forward.
Beyond senior management, It is also important to carefully consider who else in the organization could be exposed to the media. Investing in some media awareness training for these co-workers is wise. Give them a basic understanding of what to expect from the media and know how to escalate any interest from journalists. This level of training does not need to be face-to-face and can be easily delivered through a webinar or through a speaker at a work conference.
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