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4 Ways to Sink a Press Conference

Sony's underwhelming PS4 announcement suggests there is a right way and a wrong way to do a big product reveal. Here's what not to do.

Video game designer Mark Cerny talks about Sony's Playstation 4 at a press conference Wednesday.

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You know that old saw about any press being good press? That's one cliché you definitely want to throw out.

Sony incurred the wrath of reporters on Wednesday after a particularly underwhelming press conference held to reveal the company's new PS4 gaming console. In the end, the big reveal didn't really happen: More than two hours later, Sony never showed the console itself or released any specs or pricing information.

Want to sink your splashy product demo? Here are four Sony-tested ways to do it. 

Drag it out.

Apple gets a lot of praise for its pithy and concise product releases--for good reason. No one likes to sit through a 140-minute pep rally, especially not reporters who are on a tight deadline.

"I'm dying here. Show us the PS4. It's been over an hour," tweeted blogger Stefan Etienne of Laptop Memo from the conference on Wednesday.

Attention spans, historically, have been measured at 20 to 22 minutes--and some research shows that is shrinking, says Dr. Nick Morgan, president of the communications coaching firm Public Words. Ideally, a successful presentation should be between 10 and 20 minutes, Morgan recommends. "Run any longer and you're going to lose your audience," he says.

It is also important to keep your audience in mind. When releasing a product to the press, remember that reporters really just want what you want: to share the news. Every minute that you keep the details from them is another minute that your product is not getting the limelight. So keep it short.

Lose track of the plot.

In their book Writing That Works, ad man Joel Raphaeson and CEO Kenneth Roman write of the most basic rule when organizing a presentation: "Keep things simple--keep them on target." If only Sony had gotten the memo.

"Where is the plot?" queried Gizmodo staff writer Sam Biddle as the conference lapsed into its second hour.

Journalist Matt Lees was quick to respond--in video form--with a dubbed narration of the conference. The video summarizes and pokes fun at Sony's disjointed presentation. It's hilarious. But it also illustrates a valuable point: Overwhelm your audience with too much unnecessary information, and you risk distracting them from your actual product.

"Every audience comes into a presentation with one question in mind: Why?" Morgan says. "Why should I pay attention?" If you don't answer that question, he warns, your audience will quickly grow bored, turning their attention to other subjects. And in the case of journalists, public criticism.

Fail to include details.

Perhaps most frustrating of all for reporters, Sony failed to show any actual images--no photos, no prototypes--of the much-anticipated PS4 console. The company also neglected to include key technical specs, and a price tag for the console. Coupled with a long wait and incoherent message, this did not go over well.

According to Morgan, if you can successfully answer the question "Why should I care?" your audience will then want to know "How?" How can they get this product? How much will it cost? How does it work? Failing to answer these questions will leave an audience frustrated and unsatisfied.

"If you're okay with not being shown a PS4 at a PS4 event and not learning about PS4 specs, I don’t know what to tell you," tweeted Chris Ziegler, Senior Editor at The Verge, of his frustration.

"WHY WERE WE WATCHING THAT?" seconded Veronica Belmont, host of the weekly podcast Tekzilla.

Over-build the hype.

Usually, building hype is a good thing. Anticipation and excitement can result in a great product release. But build the hype up too much--then fail to deliver--and the audience's disappointment may counteract all of your PR team's hard work. 

Furthermore, racing a competitor like Microsoft to the product release--as some have accused Sony of doing with the PS4--creates an element of risk.

“Microsoft now has the advantage of being able to react and respond,” says strategic innovation consultant Scott Steinberg of TechSavvy. If Microsoft can come out with hardware that is even better or further along than the PS4, Sony’s early momentum will be quickly halted, Steinberg explains.

In other words, Microsoft may now be able exploit weaknesses in Sony’s product, and play more successfully to a disillusioned press.

CITEWorld's editorial director, Matt Rosoff, summed up the media's negative sentiments in a tweet following Sony's announcement: "What you just witnessed was Microsoft winning the console wars once and for all." Ouch.

 

Last updated: Feb 22, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.
@FrancescaFenzi




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