EightRulesforthePress (PDF version)
I’m at University of Michigan for a semester, teaching as Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence, and was invited to speak to a workshop on talking to the Press. I wrote up Eight Rules, based on a paper of ten rules I did twenty years ago when Mike McCurry took over the podium at the State Department. I couldn’t find the original so I put together an updated version below (the first comment is that you don’t need ten rules to fill out the space; say what you need to say and then stop):
Ten Eight Rules for Speaking to the Press
|1||70% Looks,20% Sound,
|➢ Comb your hair➢ Talk slowly
➢ Watch yourself with the sound off.
➢ Don’t mumble; speak on a good connection.
➢ Free your hands; lift your chin; look at the camera, lean forward.
|2||Think with your mouth shut.||➢ Stop saying…Uh, well, So, OK.➢ Pause and think.
➢ Silence (in small doses) makes you look thoughtful.
➢ Finish sentences with your mouth closed.
|3||Know who you are (The Simba Rule)||➢ Only say what you know you know.➢ Do your homework. Study, rehearse.
➢ Know your main points and make sure you make them.
➢ Practice a sound-bite — 9 seconds (about a Tweet).
➢ If an answer is more than 40 seconds, it better be good.
➢ Anticipate questions. You can probably figure out 70%.
|4||They will write the story.||➢ Tell a story, not just facts. Use examples. What happened, why, how and what it means.➢ Do you want to be in the story or not?
➢ Can you help the reporter get it right? Even if you don’t have a point of view, don’t end up fixing errors tomorrow.
➢ Treat their questions with respect; they get the last word.
|5||Make the rules clear.||➢ On camera, on-the-record, background, off-the-record.➢ Live? Taped? In its entirety? Right to approve quotes?
➢ You state the rules: “We’re on background here, right?”
➢ The more up front you are, the more credible you are.
|6||Talk to your mother.||➢ Small words, big thoughts.➢ If your mom understands, others will too.
➢ If you can’t convince her, you won’t convince anyone.
➢ She’ll be excited to see you on TV.
|7||Always tell the truth||➢ Everything can be searched and checked –forever.➢ You don’t have to tell all the truth, but everything you say must be true and not designed to mislead.
➢ Admit mistakes. Make the story about how you are fixing the problem, not about the problem.
|8||Talk to the crisis||➢ First reports are always wrong! Don’t forget this! Ever!➢ Keep cool, your first job is to build confidence.
➢ Use action verbs: “We’re investigating.” “We’re contacting” “We’re examining” “We’re preparing” “We’re searching” Not: “We’re waiting for more information.”
Perhaps some of this might be useful for future spokespersons or those thrust forward in a crisis.