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5 Tips For Leaders Who Are Dealing With A Crisis

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 23 Dec 2014

The world leaps from crisis to crisis.North Korea, Iran, Russia, oil, beheadings, Ferguson, auto recalls, cyber crimes.'you name it. Every day there are a couple dozen major sources of trouble ' big news stories requiring an official response from leaders at every level. And that's not even counting the local and regional stories that pile up every hour ' affecting the lives of so many and requiring on-the-record responses. Public officials and private executives are put on the spot but rarely prepared for it. If they do well at all it's surprising and almost completely due to their innate candor, honesty, and authenticity. But what about the times you can't be completely forthcoming and need to withhold some information, let's say, for security reasons' Or perhaps you do not know all the facts and you are being barraged by the media for information.Here are a few tips for anyone who might be called on to speak in and about a crisis.1. Get training.Anyone who is a designated spokesperson or an executive with public interface responsibilities must absolutely be media trained. How could there be any excuse to not be trained' Sooner or later you can bet you will be called upon to speak on camera, and there are many firms that provide this sort of training.The principal outcome of this exercise is to take away the fear and to leave the leader with practical tactics that can be utilized under the hot lights and glare of cameras. I have seen serious adults, shaking with fear and trepidation, take on a calm demeanor when the fear is gone.2. Pay attention to your physical appearance.By all means, if you are a designated hitter ' a person who may be called upon to speak to the public or in the media on behalf of your cause or company, think about what you look like. Keep yourself groomed. Lose some weight ' cameras pack on the pounds. Have facial blemishes removed. Keep your hair cut and styled, and if you color it, make sure it is a good dye job and that it is kept up.Gray roots look disheveled. Remember HD cameras magnify everything. Keep a "suit of armor," as I call it, handy. A dark suit and plain blue or small patterned tie for gentleman and a non-patterned soft jacket over a dress or pants for women. By all means, when offered make-up by the crew let them apply it ' including for the men. I have seen grown men, inexperienced in conducting stressful interviews, refuse makeup, and they pay the price for it. You don't want to appear like a pale face, sweaty, Nixon going against a tanned JFK. This is not about vanity. It is being kind to your audience and appearing believable, serious, and capable. You want to engender confidence in your organization. It's not about you. It's the equity value of your company or the charitable donations your organization receives that is at stake here.3. Just say no. First of all, just because you are asked by a media outlet to be interviewed in a crisis, does not mean you have to accept their invitation. If you are not prepared to answer every question about an incident or your research is not conclusive, suggest that you will be ready to speak on the record in a day or two. It is far worse to speak publicly out of ignorance than to appear and then stumble your way through thorny questions.Offer them a formal statement that has been vetted, in some cases, by your legal department, and give them a date in the future when you think you might go on air. It is your job to make yourself accessible to the media and to sell your position. Don't hide, just don't move forward unless you are ready for it. Stay in control ' out of confidence, not intimidation.4. Know what you can and cannot say.Much as I hate to defer to legal counsel on matters of communication, today in our litigious society, it is critical that you do this. Especially if you represent a public company or a public charity. So, once you find out what you cannot say you better land on what you can say. To be dancing around an issue or to not be forthcoming does not work. Make sure you have plenty to say in facts ' interesting things based on research. Then broaden your base of knowledge by referring to your "colleagues and coworkers."Do not take credit or complain or refer to yourself ' ever. Make this as impersonal as possible. Take yourself out of the center of it. Don't spout more information than you need to. Just answer the question or re-direct it but do not carry on with more information than is asked for.President Reagan told me, "Be a well, not a fount." Meaning be a well of information when asked for it, but don't send out data indiscriminately or in an undisciplined way. You get yourself into trouble that way and reporters are often looking for you to lower your guard to make news for them on their watch. This is their job ' to make a headline out of you. This is the way it is often done.5. Be likeable but not too friendly. Never use the reporter's name verbally in responding to them. Some trainers will tell you to do that. It does not work. The reporter has her work to do and so do you. Also do not ask them their opinion on the issue at hand. They are not supposed to have one, and they do not want to be drawn into a relationship with you or to be seen as having a bias (at least on the surface!)See tough questions as opportunities to clarify your position, and don't barb them in your own insecurities. It's like tennis. A fast serve can lead to a decisive point for you on the leaderboard. In general do not smile ' this is a serious situation. Be completely honest in what you can say. Be willing to say you do not know the answer to a question. Never be defensive. Stay in the offense and never lose control of the discussion.Say "thank you for having me on the show" if that is appropriate. Never get angry. Never criticize the media. It does not work. Prepare by asking yourself the toughest, meanest questions you could imagine and then when you are not asked them you will feel either relief and confidence or you will be prepared for the next interview ' which just might include those exact curve balls!James Rosebushwas aReagan White House official and is nowthe CEO and founder ofGrowthStrategy.us. His leadership column appears on Business Insider every Tuesday.SEE ALSO:7 Steps To Becoming An Excellent PresenterJoin the conversation about this story
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