Crisis Management: Tony Blair – How to Communicate In a Crisis: Crisis Communications
The four terrorist explosions in London in the summer of 2006 sent another chill, but also called forth the one person that Great Britain most wanted in times of crisis at the time: Prime Minister Tony Blair. Now he has moved on, but his skills are still instructive.
A Reuters report following the July 7 blasts said, “Opinion polls during the election (when he was re-elected to his third term) showed Blair may have been distrusted and even disliked, but when asked the question who they would wish as leader at a time of national crisis, he was overwhelmingly the man Britons wanted.”
I am not surprised. I think Blair is one of the best communicators on the planet. He may be a lightning rod for helping America fight in Iraq, but if you want a model for motivating others through public speaking, watch him. A fan for years, I thought his verbal agility after the bombings was nonpareil.
He talked to his countrymen and the world about both the attack AND the G-8 summit he was hosting. Talk about pressure; imagine trying to calm your country while persuading a skeptical world of G-8 efforts to reduce extreme poverty and global warming. A blur of Blair comments, often without notes or reference to them, followed. You have to go back to NYC Mayor Guiliani at 9/11 to find comparable contemporary inspiration.
Shortly after the attack, Blair, without notes, extended condolences, and then assailed the terrorists and poverty simultaneously. “It is particularly barbaric that this has happened on a day when people are meeting to try to help the problems of poverty in Africa… our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people…”
He promised to meet obligations to both country and world, saying, “It is my intention to leave the G-8 within the next couple of hours and go down to London and get a report, face-to-face, with the police, and the emergency services and the ministers that have been dealing with this, and then to return later this evening.”
Some Tony Blair communication characteristics:
He keeps his eye on his objective. During challenging questioning after the summit, he persistently reminded reporters of progress. They were suspicious that anything really new was done about poverty. He said passionately, “…you always get people who tell you … whatever you achieve is never enough….that’s usually said by people who aren’t actually getting their hands dirty trying to achieve anything. This (the G-8 commitments) is the basis upon which we can move forward, IF we implement these commitments.”
He talks like a human being. He speaks fast, slow, and pauses a lot so that comments sink in. Under questioning, he often takes a breath, searches his thoughts for what to say, and then hits you with a shot of verbal clarity.
Passion. Most observable in person or through broadcasting, his expression, body language and tone of voice leave little doubt where his feelings lie.
Finally, Blair has a knack for keeping the larger perspective AND his audience foremost. Several years ago in the run-up to the war with Iraq he and President Bush stood side by side to implore other allies to join the fight. Paraphrasing now, Bush told them it was their last chance to get on board. It’s my way or the highway. Blair, on the other hand, was inclusive. Come join us and help us make the world a safer place.
The Reuters story referenced earlier said, “(Blair) remains a leader highly attuned to the tone his public needs to hear as well as standing tall on the world stage.” To my mind, the lesson is that the most motivational leaders do more than communicate great ideas. They show their feelings and try to bond with those watching and listening.
Regardless what you think of his politics, Tony Blair does that.