Let’s face it, everything is different these days: how legislatures are meeting, where they are meeting, how you interact with constituents and how you host a press conference. Hosting press events is extremely important in your role as a state legislator, and online press conferences are not going away anytime soon. Fact is, because online events can actually have higher turnouts than in-person events due to travel restrictions, they may continue to be a common option in our post-pandemic world.
These six tips can help you create engaging, professional-looking press events for the online world.
Get Organized in Advance
Think about the key takeaway of your event. Does it need to be interactive or is it just to inform? Your answer can impact the platform.
Be mindful of length. A 30- to 45-minute window is ideal and preferred for most reporters, especially if your press conference is early in the week, when many are filing on deadline. Try to avoid Thursday or Friday press events, which are apt to get lost in the pre-weekend shuffle. And because of reporters’ increasingly tighter schedules and the number of virtual events they’re invited to, it’s important to make your event worth their while.
Choose the Right Platform
You can choose from numerous platforms offering a variety of experiences. You can go as simple as Facebook Live or use Zoom to better control who is viewing your press conference. Other platforms you should consider include Webex or Conference+.
Just as social media posts with visual aids get more interaction with followers, online press conferences with visuals are more engaging. If you are discussing a new piece of legislation aimed at increasing funding for school teachers’ salaries, show a graph that compares teacher pay in your state with that in other states. Think of it as telling a story. This is critical in a virtual environment as you do not have a captive audience like you would at an in-person event. Guests or journalists may drift into multitasking on something else if you do not hold their attention.
Decide on Your Setup: Formal or Casual?
Your subject matter needs to drive your setup. For example, if your event involves answering questions about an existing piece of legislation, a seated, casual setting with good lighting and a clean, clear desk might work best. But if you are presenting on something a little more serious, with a potentially larger media attendance, you will need to think about backdrop (state flags, seal, capitol rotunda, etc.).
You may need to hire a technical team or rely on the in-house IT department at your capitol to provide and set up the gear, but it’s worth the effort. The HD live broadcast, crisp audio and stable footage will help you look as professional as possible.
Decide How You Will Engage With the Media
Are you taking questions from the media? If so, certainly the platform you are using does play into this. Engagement during the press event could take the form of a demonstration, live polling or Zoom breakouts with select reporters and yourself—or all of those.
The chat box is also important. Ask attendees to submit their questions via a chat box or other tool offered by your platform. This will allow you to group questions, so they are not redundant. It also allows you to flag the more challenging questions and take a few extra minutes to prepare thoughtful and thorough answers. The other benefit—for some, the downfall—to an online press event is if you don’t have time to get to all the questions. Don’t worry, they are archived in the chat box feature, giving you the opportunity to respond to individual reporters after the event.
Share Your Online Event
Consider repackaging your press event as a media alert and send it to media members who were not in attendance. This simple but meaningful task allows for the creation of supplemental or alternate footage that you can send to local radio and TV stations for their use following your event.
One final note: The platform you use affects how easy it is to do this. For example, if you are using Facebook Live, you can just send out a generated URL. If you are using Zoom or similar platform, you will need to set up a YouTube account for the video to be uploaded to once your press event has ended. Your technical team or in-house IT department at your capitol should be able to set that up for you.
Mick Bullock is NCSL’s director of public affairs in the Washington, D.C., office and is responsible for NCSL's digital media and media relations.