Crisis Management: Get Media Training But Know What You’re Getting: Crisis communications
More executives than ever get media training and more PR firms offer it. Good. It should be mandatory for those in business. Don’t say your company is too small, too out-of-the-way, too poor, or, especially, that you will never talk to a reporter until the day you die. This is about far more than talking to the media. In fact we ought to call it communications coaching because it applies across many disciplines. For instance, as a business professional can you execute these skills?
- Take charge of your messages in meetings and presentations and not be held hostage by an adversarial audience.
- Anticipate tough questions and use those very questions to determine what you will convey; perhaps even pre-empt the tough questions with your comments.
- Guide dissent toward your point of view. Direct a conversation toward the issues important to you even as you answer tough questions.
- Talk in concepts rather than memorized sentences. Communicate the essence of your argument rather than be confined by inflexible wording. Have the confidence and freedom to choose conversational words that come naturally.
- Take the initiative at the beginning of a vital presentation. Stake out your position immediately while still reassuring listeners that they will get their turn.
- Know what people most want to hear so that you can prepare messages that go to the heart of their wants and needs.
If you need to develop these skills, that’s where media training comes in. Notice that in the above examples not once did I mention talking to the news media. That is because good media training should teach you to communicate to audiences beyond just journalists.
Now unfortunately there is media training and then there is media training. Some good: some less so. So, let me tell you what to look for before you engage a media trainer.
Obviously you want someone who can help you accomplish what I said at the beginning. For those in senior positions I recommend that crisis communications be a primary component. (Frequently, of course, there is no crisis, but since the communication principles for benign interviews are so close to those for serious situations, you might as well have crisis management be part of your session.) The following principles ought to be bedrocks:
Actions as well as words – Get a media trainer who focuses on strategies and tactics for action. Actions speak louder than words while simultaneously giving you something to talk about. You want philosophies and principles to help you make decisions. Values should underpin all that you do. Words not based on meaningful deeds are spin control. Your audience will see through it – and through you.
Teamwork – If possible, have the crisis team members do the training together. That way all of you, as a unit, can practice crisis decision-making as well as message and Q&A drafting and delivery. (This is not always doable because you may personally be preparing for a specific media encounter and want to refine your specific skills.) Please remember that the team is critical. Decisions in consultation with only one or two others scare me. There is too much you can overlook.
Minimal cosmetics, maximum content – Media training can really run off the rails if cosmetics drives the session. It is astonishing how much you can reduce an otherwise intelligent individual into a quivering mass when you overload him with admonitions on how to look, how to sound, what to wear, how to stand, how to sit, how to gesture, where to look, how loudly to speak, where your legs should go, etc., etc. My experience is that if the primary focus is on such matters then they are almost all the participants think about. Messages become fuzzy and participants like automatons. People become preoccupied with, “How do I look?” or “Am I doing everything the trainer told me?” I once knew a CEO who was harassed because he didn’t speak more forcefully and he said that was all that was in his head the whole time.
- Get someone who will build on your natural strengths and not try to remake your personality.
- Good communication is much more than cosmetics. Yes, those factors are legitimate if your appearance, tone, and body language are seriously dissonant with your message. However, my experience is that if your decisions are appropriate, you believe in them and are confident then your body language and delivery will tend to take care of themselves.
- Also think about this. When the wolf is at the door and your reputation or leadership is in question, people want to hear how you are protecting their interests more than anything else. So, worry about what you are doing and saying. Again, appropriate action explained by good messages delivered authentically.
- When cosmetics take center stage they can get inside your head and eclipse sound thinking. Not good.
So, not all media training is the same. Please get it and not just to talk to the media but be careful.