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Brutal News Conferences

By Suzanne Spurgeon, Founder of Women Media Pros  June 2, 2021

When are news (press) conferences brutal?

  • You have bad or sad news to convey to the public; especially involving loss of life.
  • Your company is in the middle of a crisis and the CEO is being peppered with questions he or she would prefer not to answer.
  • An old social media post or viral video has surfaced that paints you in a very bad light.  Reporters are literally shouting at you.
  • You're a politician accused of wrong doing and every reporter is asking nasty questions.
  • You're an athlete and you/your team has just lost a big match or game.  The media wants answers, not excuses.

When tennis star Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open after letting it be known she would not sit for post-match news conferences (win or lose), she shed new light on just how brutal some news conferences can be.  Osaka rightly has put her mental health first.  Professional tennis organizations have some soul-searching to do.
While it is true that the media can be a boost to some athletes and sports,  some changes are needed.  Maybe a pool situation could be set up or athletes could be given much more time to decompress after play before facing the media. 

The press conference is a double-edge sword in many situations.  It can be your chance to try to set the record straight; tell your side of the story; be a first step toward repairing your image; or providing the public with necessary information following a natural or manmade disaster.  All good reasons to step up to the mic.  You use the media to your advantage.  But...

  • It's not the media's job to make your job easier.
  • Some journalists don't play fair.
  • You can get flustered and go off message.
  • If you get caught in a lie, all bets are off.
  • You hate the media and it shows--from your tone-of-voice, to body language to inappropriate language.  The most effective corporate spokespeople learn to control their emotions--at least until after the news conference.

So, considering all these factors, how do you decide if a news conference is the right option for you and your messaging?  I advise clients to gather a few of the smartest people in their organization and run various scenarios.  This group should be diverse. If you surround yourself only with "yes" men and women who think, act and look like you, you are not getting a true read on how the public may react to your news.

Your group may conclude it's best to start with statements on social media or to produce an in-house video statement and distribute it.  Then before any news conference,  run a mock news conference in house.  There is no one, right answer for every situation.  It will be stressful and you need to take care of yourself.  This may be as simple as breathing exercises or taking some alone-time in a quiet area before doing media interviews or holding a news conference. Maybe you touch base with your best friend or spouse for some final words of encouragement.  And the more comfortable you are with your "talking points" the more comfortable you will be sharing them with the media and the public.


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