Media gurus to Bernanke: go slow, be calm, wear blue
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tips for Ben Bernanke: speak more slowly, keep your gaze, wear a blue suit.
Communications experts say the Federal Reserve chairman looks in good shape for the first of the unprecedented news conferences after policy meetings that the U.S. central bank is due to hold on Wednesday.
He has, after all, had plenty of practice batting back tough questions on Capitol Hill and from university students.
But dealing with reporters will be a different challenge for the man known for his professorial style of address.
"Press conferences are by nature messy," said Taylor Griffin, a media consultant for Hamilton Place Strategies and a former Treasury Department spokesman. "It's very important for the Fed chairman to know what he wants to say, but also what to say when he doesn't expect the question."
Bernanke is likely to have practiced with a mock version of Wednesday's meeting with the media, focusing on his ability to get his points across and asking aides to pepper him with the questions he least wants to answer, media consultants say.
"He doesn't need training, he needs prep," said a Washington-based media expert speaking on condition of anonymity.
CATCH YOUR BREATH
Media advisors said Bernanke could tweak his style to ensure he exudes confidence and certainty in Fed policy.
"I would tell him first of all to slow his pace down, because to me it sounds like he is getting winded in the middle of his answers," said Bill McGowan, chief executive of Clarity Media Group after watching a video of Bernanke taking questions at the National Press Club.
"When you get winded your voice gets this shake to it and that creates a sound of uncertainty and anxiety."
Similarly, Bernanke's eyes sometimes dart across the room, making him "appear a little nervous," McGowan said.
Stylistically, Bernanke should sit, not stand, consultants said. One proposed he wear a blue suit because that looks authoritative but not harsh.
Gestures can be important too. The chairman shouldn't fold his hands in front of him like he's praying. Better to press the tips of your fingers together to "steeple" them -- a "thoughtful and powerful" gesture -- according to media consultant Bill Connor.
The news conference on Wednesday, which will allow Bernanke to sum up a two-day policy meeting, is the first regularly scheduled briefing by a Fed chairman in the central bank's 97-year history.
Bernanke has responded to media questions before: in interviews on the 60 Minutes television program and following speeches before the National Press Club in February 2009 and 2011 when questions from journalists were read from cards.
"Reporters often ask more targeted questions than (lawmakers) on the Hill. They can be less predictable and play hard with follow-ups," said Peter Fenn, president of Fenn Communications Group.
Most other advanced economies' central banks already hold news conferences and Bernanke has reportedly been studying them for learning points.
The European Central Bank's first news conferences in 1998 were not without teething problems. Under then president Wim Duisenberg, the bank was criticized for an inconsistent and unclear style of communicating, which may have contributed to a 25 percent fall of the euro against the dollar over two years.
MARKETS HANGING ON EVERY WORD
When Jean-Claude Trichet took over the ECB in 2003, he adopted more systematic language, including code phrases that markets came to recognize as having specific meanings.
"I imagine for Bernanke it's a little nerve-racking to stand up there, when every word and phrase gets parsed and analyzed and you're responsible for markets reacting," Fenn said.
The news conference format could be a difficult one for an institution like the Fed, which is not used to being challenged by reporters, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
"It's supposed to be adversarial -- the reporters are supposed to be holding power accountable," she said.
Also important is to remember the audience and not sound like an ivory-tower academic, the experts said.
New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley last month irked an audience in working class Queens, New York, when he used the example of the iPad 2 costing the same as an iPad to explain that while some prices, such as food and energy, are rising, others are falling.
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