Continuing with extracts from the Crisis Management section of the Media Survival Guide – and following on from the previous segment suggesting ways of controlling the flow of information – following are further desirable attributes to consider when appointing a spokesperson to speak and act on behalf of a dive operator.
Body language – the use of posture, movement, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact – is a powerful tool that, when used effectively, can help to reinforce a spokesperson’s sincerity and credibility.
A person who slumps their shoulders, or who stands rigidly in place and fails to look at the audience while they read from a prepared statement, not only conveys a lack of confidence in what they have to say, but also tends to become tense.
Tension is something to be avoided when addressing the media. Not least because its usual manifestations – nervousness and shortness of breath – may be misinterpreted and suggest that the speaker has something to hide.
On the other hand, the use of considered and appropriate movements – such as stepping towards the audience to emphasise a point and then stepping back once that point has been made – adds impact to what the person is saying while, at the same time, releasing any tension that they might feel.
Movements and gestures should always be considered for the effect they can have on what is being said. Stepping to one side, for example, will indicate that the speaker is about to address another matter. Whereas pacing, rocking backwards and forwards, or swaying from side to side, can be distracting and indicate nervousness.
Hand and arm gestures are equally effective. Moving both hands towards one another indicates unity, while moving them apart can be used to contrast differences. Displaying open palms can be interpreted in a variety of ways; held outwards, (in a similar manner to the diving hand signal for ‘Stop’) the gesture can suggest rejection, whereas upward facing palms extended towards the audience can indicate caring and openness; a forefinger pointing towards the ceiling can be used to emphasise a point, while folding the arms together across the chest projects strength and determination. Clasping the hands together in front of the chest indicates unity, a useful gesture when emphasising teamwork or trying to resolve a conflict.
Regardless of what is being said, many listeners take their cue from facial expressions. The movements of the eyes, mouth and eyebrows play a vital role in a listener’s understanding of what is meant. Turning down the mouth or lowering the eyelids will indicate sadness; widening the eyes demonstrates surprise or disbelief, as does raising the eyebrows.
Also keep in mind the fact that cultural upbringing plays a vital role in the meaning attached to specific gestures. In most western cultures nodding or shaking the head will indicate ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ respectively. In some parts of the world these movements mean the exact opposite, and if used inappropriately can confuse the listener.
Facial expressions – like all body movements and gestures – should always be consistent with what is being said. A spokesperson that, for example, employs an open smile, (as opposed to a sad one) while talking about a diving accident may well confuse the audience into thinking that they are insincere.
Eye contact is the single most powerful and persuasive way of gaining attention and in helping to establish the sincerity and credibility of the speaker. When you look directly into the eyes of a listener, they are more willing to accept that what you say is true.
When addressing a large number of people, (as in a Press Conference) always move your gaze around the audience in a considered fashion. Never look repeatedly at the same person. Use eye contact to encourage reporters asking ‘friendly’ questions and, with the feedback gained from looking at the audience, avoid those whose questioning style is more aggressive.
What a spokesperson says is vital to the way in which a story is reported. How they say it plays an even greater role. It’s an established fact that a listener is far more likely to be influenced by the tone and quality of a speaker’s voice than they will be by the meaning of the words alone.
An articulate spokesperson who talks in a quiet, dull monotone will be less effective than one who is able to project well; who speaks clearly and distinctly; who can pace their delivery so that each word is injected with meaning; and who, by adding pleasing vocal variety to their speech, interests the listener in what they have to say.
Practice in public speaking – and the use of various techniques to add impact to what is said – gives a spokesperson a distinct advantage over somebody less skilled.
THE POWER OF WORDS
Having a good vocabulary might be an asset, but never assume that everybody necessarily understands what a particular word actually means.
As far as possible, avoid the use of clichés, buzzwords and technical jargon that might require lengthy and detailed explanation. (The more complicated a verbal statement is, the more open it becomes to misinterpretation.)
Use simple words that everybody readily understands, but choose them carefully and for their ability to paint a mental picture that will help sway the listener to a particular point of view.
Saying, for example, that, “The potential risks in diving are well understood.” may be preferable to saying, “The potential dangers in diving are well understood.” While both ‘risk’ and ‘danger’ have somewhat similar meanings, the latter conjures up a far more emotive image than does the use of the word ‘risk’.
Similarly, divers might be considered as people who take calculated risks; which, again, is different from suggesting that they are ‘risk-takers’.
A good spokesperson should attempt to build a rapport with the media without ever losing sight of the fact that their first duty is to their employer and themselves.
(A trite phrase heard far too often in selling – and a spokesperson is, first and foremost, a salesperson – is, “Once you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made.” Anybody who follows such advice does himself or herself a disservice. However. It is important to recognise that absolute sincerity can be equally damaging to the spokesperson’s cause.)
A spokesperson with the right attitude is one who can project confidence and who is able to quickly adapt to changing lines of questioning, rather than one who implicitly follows advice such as:
“Maintain a cooperative attitude” – It is far more important to give the appearance of being cooperative as far as the media is concerned.
“Maintain candour when reporting facts” – A spokesperson’s candour is seldom in question. The media will usually assume that the spokesperson is representing a point of view and that any supposedly candid comments that they make – far from being impartial – might have an underlying purpose.
“Always tell the truth” – ‘Truth’ is a subjective concept best determined by history.
In speaking the ‘truth’ a spokesperson runs the risk of implicating themselves or their employer in the incident. If necessary be thrifty with the facts – BUT NEVER TELL A LIE.
In terms of attitude, a spokesperson should:
• Be polite and courteous, and reflect confidence.
• Always maintain an aura of calm and not become agitated or unsettled by searching questions.
• State the facts – as they want them to be known – clearly and concisely.
• Never raise their voice, argue, or become impatient with a questioner.
• Remember the importance of eye contact and how to use it effectively.
• Answer all questions that are put to them – even if it’s only to say that they don’t know the answer.
• Memorise the questioning journalist’s name and incorporate it into the answer.
• Never introduce personal opinion or conjecture into an answer.
• Never be critical of anyone who is involved in the incident – or be provoked into making moral or ethical judgements.
• At the conclusion of an interview take the initiative by making a note of the media representative’s contact details and offering to furnish them with more detailed facts once these are known.
Categories: Crisis Management Manual