Master this skill and boost your crisis management abilities

Impressions are extremely important when it comes to crisis management, and the act of public speaking is perhaps the most vulnerable to creating the wrong one. There are those rare speakers that convey confidence and purpose while navigating the booby trap questions laid by reporters, seemingly without breaking a sweat, but far more often we have to really work to speak effectively for crisis management.

The following tips, from an excellent MMI Public Relations blog post by Jake Potter, should get you started:

Discover what you really convey with your face and body gestures when speaking. Tape yourself talking or watch in a mirror when fielding “media” questions. (Or get some media training!) Whatever the case, you need to be looking for tells, tics and anything that can be misconstrued. Act confident and self-assured, and be mindful of your natural reactions. Your body language can tell a different story than your talking points. Speaking of which…

Write down your talking points, and don’t be afraid to shut up. Many times, CEOs and spokesmen get in hot water because they simply say too much – there’s a human tendency to fill dead space in a conversation. But with reporters, you’re not obligated to talk until they say stop. Just give a comprehensive, efficient answer to their question and await the next. It’s OK to repeat talking points – those are the things you want to convey most – and it ensures that the clip that makes it to the 6 o’clock news isn’t an off-hand quote.

Ask yourself who is affected by the crisis. Then speak directly to them. Tailor your language to reflect a direct interaction with people impacted by whatever scenario is taking place. This is your chance to set the story straight, or to extend a message of unity or care to anyone hurt or reeling from bad news. Be human – there’s nothing wrong with showing a little emotion. Just be sure to avoid straying from your original message.

Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of thinking that reading through these tips is going to prepare you for the firestorm that is a mid-crisis management press conference. It takes a LOT of practice to be smooth in front of cameras or a live audience.

Don’t just practice in front of a friendly audience, because it’s likely your crisis crowd won’t be. When we media train clients we run them through a gamut of situations that includes placing them (quite realistically, we’ve been told!) in the midst of an extremely hostile interview, as well as recreating common occurrences like having hecklers and detractors in the audience.

It’s takes some blood, sweat and yes, a few tears, but master the art of public speaking and you’ll be an invaluable weapon in your organization’s crisis management arsenal.