Behind the curtain:
A look at what goes on before a news conference

ISSN 2369-873X

31 October 2016
Posted by Genevieve Corbin

It's two minutes before show-time. The actors have learned their lines, the lights are hot, and the cameras are all pointed at the stage. No, it's not the Academy Awards—or even opening night on Broadway—but sometimes it feels that way.

When the TSB holds a news conference, five to ten times a year, it's because we have something important to share. That means investigation updates or findings, Board recommendations, or—as is the case on October 31—our highly anticipated safety Watchlist.

Plenty of people are usually watching, either in person or online via a webcast, but not all will be aware of just how much work goes on behind the scenes. That's where the Communications team comes in. Starting weeks (or in some cases months) before the actual event, they dot all the I's and cross all the T's, poring over checklists and what-ifs to make sure the event goes as smoothly as possible and that our safety messages are heard loud and clear.

The long list of details to consider includes renting a room, identifying a spokesperson for each official language, and inviting the media. At the same time, a script needs to be written—and then re-written, often more than once—to get our point across as clearly and accurately as possible. Nuance, technical details … everything matters, including who we're talking to. For instance: Do we tell the public we've found the “black box,” or is it more accurate to refer to the “flight data recorder?” Were search and rescue personnel alerted by an “EPIRB”Footnote 1 or the more general “emergency beacon?”

Once we've got the words right, it's time to practice. That means rehearsals. Stages. Podiums. Even other TSB personnel playing the part of reporters, firing all sorts of questions at the panelists so that, when the mics are live and the cameras are really rolling, we get our message across with credibility and professionalism.

Meanwhile, behind the investigators and members of the Board who are facing the reporters, there's a dedicated team of experts who have made sure the rest of the country gets the exact same information at the same time, in whatever form or official language they prefer.

Translators, for instance, work their magic dans les deux langues officielles, after which editors do what's called a “doc-compare”—making sure both versions match up—and catching any slips along the way.

Our webmaster and web developer then code and post all the relevant communications products online as soon as we “go live” at the event. Hyperlinks are tested in advance to prevent duds, and videos or animations—likely created in-house by our multimedia specialist—are pre-loaded and formatted so they'll play smoothly and seamlessly.

Last but not least, we document the whole production, taking video and still photos that we can then save for posterity or tweet for emphasis. YouTube and Flickr are popular repositories for TSB photos and videos, as is our website. Because even after the big day has come and gone, plenty of reporters will keep asking questions, and it's up to us to make sure they get an answer.

Communicating, after all, is what we do—in front of the camera and behind it.

Image of Genevieve Corbin

Genevieve Corbin is the acting manager of Strategic Communications at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. She is an avid runner, a wife, and mom to two toddlers. Helping to organizing a news conference is sometimes hard, “but nothing compared to getting the kids to eat Brussels sprouts.”

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