The Superintendent of Riverdale Local Schools in Hancock, Ohio, was interviewed by the local media after a teacher was caught on video manhandling a six year old boy in the hallway that has since gone viral.
His interview is an example of how small gaffes can diminish a spokesperson’s credibility and authority–even if the management steps to address the crisis were handled properly.
On the plus side, the subject’s tone of voice was calm and steady, which would have been great if it were only a radio interview. But visuals are important. They send subconscious cues that the brain uses to process information, e.g., trustworthiness.
Interviews during a crisis can be nerve-wracking, so Crisis Whisperer offers these helpful tips:
Manage your reputation
- If you are not comfortable speaking with the media, find and groom someone who is (however, there are times when the only appropriate spokesperson is the chief in charge)
- Know what you can and cannot say (for privacy/legal issues)
- Always focus messaging on what you can do with positive phrasing; e.g., you waste time by saying “we don’t do X” when you could lead with “we do X and here are our next steps”
- Monitor what is being said in traditional and social media so that you can address rumors or misinformation in your comments
- Use a command and control mindset when working with the media; it doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship, but each of you have a job to do–and yours is controlling your organization’s message
- Remember, a small, local story can become international news in the blink of an eye; it pays to behave like a big fish in a big pond
- Don’t become part of the story
Media relations training
- Anyone who could be interviewed as a representative of your organization should have media training that includes on camera work
- Playback your training interview so that you can critique your performance
- Include a media component to your annual emergency or crisis plan test
- Messaging — learning how to deliver information concisely is an art
- Body language — find a way to stand (or sit in studio) that is comfortable for you and minimize head and hand movements
- Eye contact — eye contact throughout the interview is critical; even tiny glances away from the camera may shift public perception of your truthfulness
- Watch local and national news interviews to take cues from other spokespeople
- Standing adds an air of authority; it sends the message “We’re not taking this lightly”
- It eliminates rocking or swiveling in a chair, which connotes nervousness
Prepare, prepare, prepare
- Take the time, whenever possible, to craft talking points (vetted with your crisis team: legal, HR, etc.) and practice them away from reporters
- Choose your interview space carefully — find a place that is branded for your organization and is free from distractions, including visual clutter and noise
- If you don’t normally wear a suit, keep a suit jacket in your car or office (unless you wear a uniform)
- Double check your appearance for distractions — smeared lipstick, food in your teeth, a “bat in the cave,” or accessories that take away from your appearance or interfere with the microphone
During the interview
- If you make an error, correct it immediately or as soon as possible, but don’t lose your cool
- Don’t fill the “awkward silence;” the reporter will ask another question or wrap it up instead of having “dead air”
- Only answer one question at a time, even if the reporter fires off a multi-prong question
If you follow these tips and practice, your crisis communications management will improve. If you would like hands on media training, Crisis Whisperer would love to help–just give us a call!