The Right Way To Run A Press Conference (Video)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 9, 2013 – 6:01 am

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.

The Briefing

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.

Deborah Hersman NTSB

The Questions

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.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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