10 PR lessons from Obama’s post-election news conference

The president maintained his characteristic composure in taking difficult questions from journalists. Here are the takeaways for you and those you’re advising.

President Barack Obama’s first news conference since the election of Donald Trump offers more than additional fodder for a politically divided nation.

Business executives and communicators should study the news conference for lessons on how to navigate tough questioning during difficult times and about competitors. Here are 10 takeaways:

1. Focus on key messages. Critics of President-elect Donald Trump fear a drastic turn in America’s relationships with other countries. However, Obama asserted that the United States will maintain core relationships with other countries and said he expects a certain level of continuity. This is a key message to quell public anxiety.

2. Explain it simply. When a reporter asked about the future of the Democratic Party, Obama did not go into information overload. He recommended that the party go through a time of reflection while maintaining inclusiveness and not wavering on its core beliefs and principles.

3. Avoid lingo. When discussing the Democratic Party’s defeat, the president did not take the tone of a political science professor. Instead, he pointed out the importance of politicians’ showing up and competing everywhere.

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4. Share stories. When discussing the importance of campaigning everywhere, Obama shared his own story of success in Iowa and how he repeatedly visited the state.

5. Localize. The president explained that political movements are not confined to the federal government. He touched on differences that people can strive for at lower levels of government, such as city councils and boards of education.

6. Don’t memorize lines. When talking to reporters, Obama spoke the same way he might in discussing similar questions with friends and family.

7. Use your hands. Business leaders often ask whether they should keep their hands still when speaking. The answer is “no,” unless someone normally speaks with little movement. Using your hands when speaking conveys the passion you might feel about a particular point. Anytime the president raises his hands when speaking, listen to the throng of still cameras clicking away.

8. Don’t get defensive. The president’s party lost the election. President-elect Trump might reverse some of Obama’s achievements. Reporters asked tough questions. However, he never turned defensive.

9. Avoid saying, “No comment.” Reporters asked the president whether he still believes the president-elect is not qualified for the position and whether Trump’s temperament is ill-suited for the office. In a perfectly transparent world, Obama would have answered those questions directly. He didn’t. Still, he didn’t avoid answering such questions altogether. He offered that the White House will change a person and that what people say when governing is often different from what they say when campaigning. Providing some information and insight is better than responding with “no comment.” In addition, when a reporter asked the president to comment on one of President-elect Trump’s appointees, Obama argued it would not be appropriate for him to comment on every appointment. Explaining why you won’t comment is better than simply not responding.

10. Provide substantive soundbites. To reduce the notion that Americans might quickly see a dramatic and quick turn in public policy, the president said government is less like a speedboat and more similar to an ocean liner, indicating that large-scale change comes gradually. Such a soundbite is an effective way to communicate a complex subject matter.

A version of this post first ran on Flip Side Communications.

Topics: PR


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