Eight Rules for Talking to the Press

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,

10% Content

➢     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.   


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