Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
A funny thing happened on my way to the podium…
I have just returned from one of the most enjoyable facilitation experiences I’ve had in a long time. I conducted a brief workshop on crisis communication for the Cooperative Communicators Association Institute in San Antonio. The Annual Conference was packed with more than 130 communicators from co-ops around the country representing every industry from financial to farming, power to produce.
Just before my introduction, I placed a small notepad in front of the LCD projector so the opening speaker could deliver remarks without the distraction of my PowerPoint in her background. Three minutes later, as she was about to read my bio, an attendee in the third row asked what that smell was, and noted smoke coming from the projector! Yes, you guessed it! The bulb power was so hot, it was burning a hole through the notepad and about to start a full-blown fire! Needless to say, I was thoroughly embarrassed and mortified at the thought that I could have burned down the room, accidentally.
But, then the professional speaker in me kicked in and couldn’t help but giggle at the natural segue provided to me to begin my crisis communication session:
“You know, when I lead presentation workshops, I always tell clients to ‘lead with sexy.’ Not the Congressman Weiner kind, but definitely something that grabs the audience’s attention so you start with a bang! Of course, I wasn’t planning to start a fire as my open, but how appropriate and convenient is it, when the conference is called Caliente! Hot Ideas for Cooperative Communicators, and the opening workshop is Crisis Communications: Staying out of the Hot Seat?! A little crisis, with a fast clean up is the perfect way for us to get started!”
And with that, and a little chuckle we began our session.
Given the variety of industries represented in the room, it was difficult to have a crisis drill to apply to everyone, so we had three choices, for each group. I asked the group to create opening statements using the GREAT formula, they paid attention to delivery skills and the 3Ps of crisis communication. With two rounds of escalation, it was great to watch these professional communicators adjust to new facts, worsening conditions, and the potential for even more dire circumstances. My only regret was the session was only 75 minutes long. I could tell this was a group that likes to sink its teeth into new challenges. I would have loved to have seen them adjust to the additional levels of challenges and how they would react on the dial-down, as conditions returned to normal.
Maybe next time. For now, they walked away knowing:
- People always come first in a crisis.
- Even if you aren’t the most empathetic sounding person, you need to do the work to get your voice to at least make you appear to be that way.
- Opening statements should grab the audience, yet provide a calming effect and get your listeners to feel confidence in you.
- Stay on the primary issue in your opening statement and only get into the other more negative details, if they come up in Q&A.
- And above all else, a current crisis is the worst time to see if your crisis communication plan and speakers will work. Practice drills in times of calm are the most useful tool in battling crises when they occur.
I look forward to the next drill session, and can’t wait to see what fun and challenging scenarios we can create. In the meantime, I’ll try not to burn anything else! Hmmm. Maybe that should be the final bullet: Don’t put anything in front of the LCD projector bulb, unless you want to really deal with a crisis!
Enjoy! And may all of your communications be good ones.
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