gives your organization human form. One area of control that must
exerted by the organization's public information officer is to insist
that its spokespersons be trained because we know that few are born.
No one should represent the entire organization unless he or she has
invested time and energy in developing the skills of an effective
It is not about the color of a tie or scarf one wears on television,
but the ability to effectively connect with the audience,
either through the media or in person. The importance of being
as a spokesperson can be seen in the example
of a town meeting about a possible link between cancer incidence and
a major corporation's activities.
must be trained and familiar with the basic principles of crisis and
emergency risk communication. They should play a role in developing
messages so they can "own" them and deliver them well.
of Spokesperson In An Emergency26,
It is the
task of the spokesperson to do the following.
your organization from an "it" to a "we".
trust and credibility for the organization.
the psychological barriers within the audience.
support for the public health response.
reduce the incidence of illness, injury, and death by getting it right.
should remember the following.
- Do not
that a process is in place to learn more.
- Be regretful,
the shared misery.
wishes, "I wish we knew more."
trying to allay panic (Panic is much less common than we imagine).18
point, be willing to address the "what if" questions. These
are questions that every person is thinking about and for which they
want expert answers. If the "what if" could happen and people
need to be emotionally prepared for it, it is reasonable to answer this
type of question. If you do not answer the "what if" questions,
someone with much less at stake regarding the outcome of the response
will answer these questions for you. If you are not prepared to answer
the "what if" questions, you lose credibility and the opportunity
to frame the "what if" questions with reason and valid recommendations.24
of people by giving them things to do. Perhaps the most important role
of the spokesperson is to ask people to bear the risk with you. You
can then ask the best of them, to bear the risk during the emergency,
and work toward solutions.
recommendations come largely from the work of Dr. Peter Sandman.
Sandman's article on Dilemmas
in Emergency Risk Communication discusses six dilemmas of particular
relevance to spokespeople: candor versus secrecy; speculation
versus refusal to speculate; tentativeness versus confidence; being
alarming versus being reassuring; being human versus being professional;
and being apologetic versus being defensive."
recommendations for spokespersons in all settings:
your organization's policies about the release of information.
within the scope of your responsibilities. Unless you are authorized
to speak for the entire organization or a higher headquarters, do
not do it.17
- Do not
answer questions that are not within the scope of your organizational
the truth. Be as up-front as possible.
up on issues.
visuals when possible.
a point through examples, stories, and analogies. 19
that they help you make your point and do not minimize or exaggerate
your message. Test the stories on a small group first.
Emotions And Accusations Run High In An Emergency Public Meeting 20
table lists actions that a Spokesperson should take in dealing with
emotional or accusative individuals at an Emergency Public Meeting.21,
not show inappropriate hostility.
You can be angry at the organisms or natural disasters that cause
illness and death but do not show outrage or become indignant toward
for ground rules.
To avoid the appearance of biases, ask a neutral third party to express
a facilitator or moderator.
An organization is usually better off to hire a facilitator/moderator
for the meeting from the beginning. (NOTE: this person should be neutral.)
the anger up front.
Acknowledge any expressions of anger up front and explain what you
hope to accomplish. Refer back to your objectives if the communication
not react with temper.
Do not lose your temper when confronted with accusations.
Remind yourself of your greater purpose. Display confidence and concentration.
Visualize a verbal attack and mentally rehearse a temperate response.
Do not be caught off guard. Anticipate the attack and practice not
feeding the anger.
Active listening (http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/
is exemplified by the ability to express the other person's point
of view. Concentrate on what the person is saying instead of thinking
about what you will say next when it is your turn to respond.
not say, "I know exactly how you feel." Refrain
from using expressions such as, "I know exactly how you feel,"
since the audience is not likely to believe that you do. Instead,
acknowledge the feeling.
interrupting, but set limits. If
a hostile speaker dominates, appeal to him or her that you want to
address the concerns of others in the room.
not overreact to emotional words. Remember,
you are the professional. Others have a totally different investment
in what is happening. Words you interpret in one way may mean something
else to others. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
open body language.
Sit or stand with your arms relaxed by your sides. Do not cross your
arms or put your hands on your hips. Make eye contact when possible.
Use a slightly lower tone and volume of voice than the angry individual.
not take personal abuse. A
certain amount of anger and negative emotion directed at you
is understandable. If
it becomes personal, however, you have a right to express the inappropriateness
of that behavior and ask the person to join with you in getting
to the issues. You are your organization. You are not alone. You
are not the true focus of the attack. If you know that the
be hostile, bring along a neutral third party who can step in and
defuse the situation.16
the problem, then the recommendation. When
explaining your position, state the problem before your answer. For
example, rather than saying, "Exposed persons should take Cipro
for 60 days," say, "To eliminate the risk of respiratory
anthrax, CDC recommends that exposed persons take Cipro for 60 days."
to a response.
Write down people's comments, issues, inquiries, and get back to them.
not promise what you can not deliver.
Explain the limitations of the situation and express that you are
doing everything you can to keep the response on track.
forward, not back.
Acknowledge past mistakes: "I wish we had met with you sooner
to hear your concerns." Then talk about where you want to go
in resolving problems rather than where you have been.
not search for the single answer.
One size may not fit all. Consider many possible solutions and do
not view a negotiation as an either/or proposition.
the credibility of the spokesperson is important, too. Spokespeople
allow the public to put a face to the act of investigating and resolving
a crisis or big event. How a spokesperson handles public and media inquiry,
in addition to what he or she says, helps establish credibility for
an organization, and contributes to the public's transition from the
crisis stage to resolution and recovery. An organization should choose
carefully the individual(s) who will be charged with the role of spokesperson
based not only on the individual's familiarity with the subject matter,
but also on his or her ability to talk about it in a way that communicates
confidence and is understandable. He or she should not be a new face.
A good example of this is Brentwood anthrax incident. This example
shows the importance of frequent public appearances by spokesperson
to help establish credibility for your organization.
resource for checking the effectiveness of your message preparation,
content, and delivery is the Crisis
Communication Spokesperson Checklist.
For Spokespersons During An Emergency
are points that a spokesperson should remember.
that jargon obfuscates communication and implies arrogance. If
you have to use a technical term or acronym, define it. If you can
define it, do you need to use it? Jargon and euphemisms are security
blankets. Try to give yours up.
humor cautiously. Humor is a minefield. Soft, self-deprecating
humor may be disarming for a hostile audience, but be careful.
negative allegations without repeating them. Donít own the negative
by repeating the accusation.
positive or neutral terms whenever possible.
assume you have made your point. Ask whether you have made yourself
will become an issue. During the early stage of an emergency,
donít lead with messages about money.
one-liners, cliches, and off-the-cuff comments at all costs. Any
statement that trivializes the experience of the people involved by
saying something such as "there are no guarantees in life"
kills your credibility.
what you know, not what you think.
not express personal opinions.
not show off. This is not the time to display an impressive vocabulary.
many Do's and Don'ts for spokespersons. The Emergency
Public Information Pocket Guide, which is based largely on the work
of Dr. Vincent T. Covello, has a quick reference list of Spokesperson
Do's and Don'ts.
spokespersons should know when communicating through the media
are important during the first hours or days of an emergency. The media
are the fastest and, in some cases, the only way to talk to the public
during an emergency. Media professionals do accept their community responsibilities;
however, your job is not their job. Respect the differences and look
for mutual goals.
to go into any media interview with a purpose. Have a specific message
to deliver. Also, make sure the reporter gets your name and title right,
to avoid later confusion and lack of reliability.
lists actions that a spokesperson can take to avoid general media interview
to your message.
Do not let a reporter put words in your mouth; use the words of your
previously developed message.
leading or loaded questions. If
the question contains leading or loaded language, reframe it to eliminate
the language and then answer the questions.
not react to new information that a reporter gives you.
Do not assume the reporter has it right if he or she claims that someone
has lodged an allegation. Do not react to new information that a reporter
gives you. Instead, say, "I have not heard that" or "I
would have to verify that before I could respond."
answer a question a second time or add to your answer.
If a reporter leaves a microphone in your face after you have answered
the question, stop. Do not answer the question again or add on to
is no such thing as "off the record." Background
and deep background do not mean you would not be quoted. Do not say
anything before, during, or at the conclusion of an interview that
you are not prepared to see in print the next day.
List as many expected questions as possible and draft answers.
your point first. Have
prepared message points. Try to say it in 30 seconds and in fewer
than 90 words.
not fake it. If
you do not know the answer, say so. If it is not in your area of expertise,
say so. Commit to getting the answer.
not speak disparagingly of anyone.
Never speak disparagingly of anyone, not even in jest.
not react to hypothetical questions.
Do not buy in to hypothetical questions.
sensitive interviews. Be
sure the reporter knows you are doing so.
not ask to review articles or interviews.
To avoid a perception that you are trying to edit a message, or their
reporting, do not ask reporters to allow you to review their articles
Break down multiple-part, or complex, questions into manageable segments.
Answer each part separately.
not raise unwanted issues.
Do not raise issues you don't want to see in print or on the news.
not say "no comment" to a reporter's question. Never
just say "no comment" to a reporter's question. Instead,
state why you can not answer that question. Say that the matter is
under investigation, that the organization has not yet made a decision,
or simply that you are not the appropriate person to answer that question.
you deal with sensational questions, answer as briefly as possible,
then return to your key messages. If
you have to deal with sensational or unrelated questions, answer in
as few words as possible without repeating the sensational elements.
Then return to your key messages. Here are a few recommended "bridges"
back to what you want to say:
I think you are really asking is . . ."
overall issue is . . ."
is important to remember is . . ."
is our policy to not discuss this issue, but what I can tell you
is . . ."
I am really here to discuss . . ."
readers/viewers need to know . . ."
It is important
to note that questions should only be ignored if they are truly off
target. Be careful not to ignore valid or relevant questions, or questions
many people are thinking about, because you want to talk about a different
information on effective bridging techniques, see Dr. Vincent Covello's
for spokespeople who are working with the media are Ten
Tips for Working with the Media, Working
With the Media Checklist,
and Media Strategy.
Also, it may be helpful to print this Pocket
Card information and carry it with you for dealing with