Press Conferences-What to Wear-The Art of the Interview

by admin on April 24, 2017


Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.

Most organizations should avoid press or news conferences when possible.

Ninety percent of the success of a press conference depends on the level of preparation of the person or people doing the speaking.

The most important point is your comfort level. Worrying about whether or not your nose or forehead is shiny seems like small potatoes when you are dealing with tough issues. Be more concerned about your communication objectives and your deep breathing exercises.

Success With the Media

I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results.

I use contents from the book for this article.

Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.

This is the fifteenth in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.” This is the second in a series on dealing with “Media Hell.”


Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.


Press Conferences

Most organizations should avoid press or news conferences when possible. In my thirty-five years of media relations, I did them sparingly.

Unless you have a public safety emergency that dictates the immediate release of information, or you want to announce something truly newsworthy, or you’re working for a politician, there are few examples of when a press conference meets your needs. There are safer and more effective ways to get your story in front of the public; see the upcoming chapter on marketing.

If your goal is to promote a new service of your charity (and it’s worth covering) then, by all means, hold a news conference. But for many of us, even when we have something new to announce, we carry baggage that makes our agency heads and top executives fair game for any question they choose to ask. As previously stated, when media is in a group, they can develop a pack mentality that can lead to tough and damaging questions.

One of my agency heads was at an event, and we were fresh in the news. Three television crews surrounded us and asked him for an interview. The agency head was more than willing to answer questions but was short on time. He suggested that he should hold a press conference right then and there. I drew him off to the side and asked that he address them all individually. He said he did not have time for that, and we should begin.

The event was going fine until one of the reporters started asking questions about a similar event that took place earlier. “Didn’t you promise the unions that this would not happen again?” asked one of the reporters. Then another chimed in with, “Didn’t you ask for enough money in your budget to make sure that events like these would not occur?” The collective questions started to get nasty.

The agency head suddenly looks at me with pleading eyes (by the way, pleading eyes look great on television). I turned to him with palms up-stretched. I conveyed to him through body language that there was nothing I could immediately do to extract him from this situation. He had chosen to throw himself at the mercy of multiple questioners. If one reporter decides to attack, then almost everyone attacks. I let the interview go on for a minute or so before “reminding” the agency head that he had a previous engagement and needed to break off the interview.

If you have the time, the media prefer one-on-one interviews as long as their deadlines are met. For breaking news stories, schedule them at hour intervals. It never happens that cleanly, but it will allow you to manage your time more productively.

Please note that many in public life will call for a news conference when there is no “real” news to promote. A major utility once created an elaborate setting in a public school to promote a sizeable contribution to a local charity. They had a bevy of well-paid public affairs officers working the event. The place was filled with locally prominent people. But in a combined market with ten television stations, three major newspapers and many other potential media, they received one television station camera operator without a reporter. In short, they held a press conference to announce something that was not news.

The concept, however, could have been successfully promoted through other methods. I would bet my bottom dollar that a top executive insisted on a news conference against the advice of his public affairs staff.

For those choosing to do news conferences, there are endless pages of existing materials on the subject as well as comprehensive checklists. Some of these materials give the impression that news conferences require a tremendous amount of work to produce the proper setting.

They do not. Ninety percent of the success of a press conference depends on the level of preparation of the person or people doing the speaking. Focus the vast majority of your time and resources on the speaker.

As for the setting, it needs to be large enough to hold your anticipated media. Produce a podium, a spokesperson, and a large enough room. That will give you most of what you need. You do not have to worry about lighting or a public address system. Let the media deal with this. A multi-box (a device in which audio lines can be plugged into) is nice to have but not necessary.

It means that the podium needs to be large enough to handle five to ten microphones. Handout materials are interesting but not necessary. Hopefully, they are already available on your website and it’s simply a matter of altering and printing what you already have.

Flags or a seal on the podium are appropriate touches. Having an exit adjacent to the podium so your spokesperson can leave “gracefully” is recommended.

Leave enough space for photographers to roam up front and in the aisles. The line of television tripods will be approximately 10 to 15 feet from the speaker in the center of the room. Remember to set the room for the media, not a seated audience.

All I am saying is that you need to have your priorities in place. I have seen spokespeople spend a tremendous amount of unnecessary time developing fact sheets that no one reads and worrying about the setting of the room, completely forgetting that it’s the preparation of your speaker that needs the majority of your time.

What to Wear

Fashion is another subject that gets way too much attention from media trainers. First, I would like to categorically state that what I know about fashion you could fit on the head of a pin. I have attended training courses addressing the subject and have read materials that devote many pages on dressing for media interviews. My advice: men should wear business suits; women should also wear either a business suit or a suitable conservative dress. Please go easy on the jewelry.

I assume that all of us have reached a certain level of professional competency that includes dressing properly for work. It does not have to be any more complicated than that. For anyone needing more specific advice, I have a simple solution; watch the next White House or State Department press conference on C-SPAN. Emulate what you see. You cannot go wrong with a blue suit, white shirt, and red tie or its female counterpart.

Be professional in your appearance, but at the same time it is very important for you to feel comfortable. If you want to wear your lucky tie or piece of jewelry (within reason) then, by all means, wear it. Let the camera operator adjust to you rather than you adjusting to them.

Am I the only person who is turned off by people in $800 suits or dresses sporting $200 hairstyles? Much to the consternation of the fashion industry, it seems to me that you are trying to influence people who own suits purchased at a local department store and who paid $15.00 for their last haircut.

I would suggest that separating ourselves so obviously from the very people we’re trying to reach is counterproductive. I don’t know who spends $800.00 on a suit or dress, but I know it’s not the vast majority of the people we’re speaking to.

If you wear glasses, please use them during the interview. I find it interesting that there are people who wear glasses throughout the workday but will not wear them during interviews. Once again, the goal is to be comfortable with the process and to eliminate as many distractions as possible. I find the inability to see properly immensely distracting. Therefore, please wear your glasses if you need them.

Finally, I fully understand that I have ignored the many interview fashion and makeup tips preached by those who advise public affairs professionals. Why? The answer is simple. You do not need them, and they are an unnecessary distraction.

The most important point is your comfort level. Worrying about whether or not your nose or forehead is shiny seems like small potatoes when you are dealing with tough issues. Be more concerned about your communication objectives and your deep breathing exercises.

Dressing for Green or Blue Screen Interviews

You may be invited to participate in a blue or green screen interview. With any luck, you are developing this capacity for yourself or your organization. Blue or green screen means that the background on the set (literally a blue or green screen) will be eliminated and a new one imposed by inserting a video, photograph, or graphic. You’re talking to someone interviewing you, but the viewer sees the exchange taking place elsewhere.

Dressings for a blue or green screen interview has obvious implications; don’t wear anything remotely green or blue. Most studios use green so green or tan articles of clothing are generally forbidden. Stark jewelry can also be a problem. Note that some cameras and lighting set-ups that work for green screen shots have limitations. In this case, you have to dress for the setting.

More on Media Hell

Additional tips and strategies for dealing with media hell will be offered in future articles. Use “SUBSCRIBE TO GET UPDATES ON NEW ARTICLES” on this website.

Success With the Media

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at  Your reviews are appreciated.

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