Expert guidance to prep your spokesperson—before a crisis hits

It takes more than just memorizing a script. Here’s how to handle tough questions in a thoughtful, genuine and safe manner.

In the world of media training and media interviews, there are some serious flaws you should avoid at all costs—especially when you must do a media interview during a crisis.

Remember these truths:

  • Media training is not about how to be fast on your feet; it is about how to be prepared so there are no surprise questions.
  • Your goal is not to answer every question. Your goal should be to control the questions you get asked, the answers you give, and ultimately to control the final edit of the news stories about your crisis.
  • Three key messages based on bullet points is an asinine concept and should be eradicated. Well-worded, internalized, verbatim sentences and quotes must be your spokesperson’s secret weapon.

Your best bet for your spokesperson? Read from a script. The pre-written news release should be your script for your news conference. Your news release should proactively answer every question you are going to be asked.

“That’s impossible,” you say?

“How can that be done,” you ask?

I bet you are thinking, “No one knows every question you are going to be asked in a news conference.”

Surprise. There are only two types of questions that get asked in a news conference.

  • Fact-based questions, such as who, what, when, where.
  • Speculation based questions, such as how and why.

Put the facts in your news release. Read the facts in your news conference from your script.

Next, deflect speculative questions with pre-written answers such as:

Regarding the exact cause of the explosion, at this time it would be inappropriate for us to speculate on the cause. We will have to wait for an investigation to tell us what happened, how it happened, and how we might keep it from happening again.

In media training for a crisis, your spokesperson must be trained to internalize the sentence that deflects speculations. Your spokesperson must have permission to say that line multiple times, until the reporters understand that despite rephrasing the question, the answer is still the same.

Also, your spokesperson has to internalize the above sentence so that it sounds thoughtful and spontaneous. You don’t want him or her delivering the line with anger or frustration.

As for reading from a script, recognize that it isn’t easy. Remember:

  • There is an art to reading slow.
  • There is an art to being able to read and look up to make eye contact with the audience.
  • There is an art to being able to look back at your script when the questions start coming, so you can repeat an answer that you’ve used before.

Lastly, media training for a crisis is something that every spokesperson should do at least once a year. It’s not a bucket-list item that you do one time in your life. Media training is a skill set that requires regular practice with a great coach who will be brutally honest and perpetually challenge you to be a crisis communications expert.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud is based in New Orleans. A version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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