Tom got the call to be the spokesperson for a crisis his company was facing. Tom felt he was prepared and ready to handle the situation.

The reporter spent an hour talking with Tom. At the beginning of the conversation Tom was nervous so he shifted feet, looked down, and did some heavy breathing as he talked. At one point he relaxed and the reporter asked him a questioning statement, “Tom, looking back on this, it sounds like your company has a process to handle this so it shouldn’t happen?” Tom replied, “Well…yes, we do have a process but in this situation it was nothing we could avoid due to two occurrences that were out of our control which…”and Tom went on to explain those two occurrences.

That night Tom about croaked as he watched the news. They put on the first question the reporter asked him and they showed Tom fidgeting and breathing heavy as he answered. Then they cut to the reporter asking Tom, “Tom, looking back on this, it sounds like your company has a process to handle this so it shouldn’t happen? They showed Tom saying, “Well. Yes” and that was it! The reporter then said, “There you have it. Even the company says this is something that could have been avoided.”

Sound familiar? Tom forgot the Seven Cardinal Rules of speaking to the media. We see this countless times as we work with executives on how to handle crises both internally and when dealing with the media.

Here are the Seven Cardinal Rules to remember so you don’t fall in to the same media trap Tom did:

  1. Create YOUR STORY rather than letting the media develop their own. Remember the media is looking for a STORY. A story means there is an interesting angle that the viewer will be intrigued with. If you don’t provide that angle they will try to capture it with editing and trapping questions. You need to know BEFORE you meet with the media what the STORY is that you want them to share. Think from THEIR perspective not yours. If you only defend what happened I guarantee they will try to put you in a more negative light.
  2. Watch telltale nervous or combative body language signs such as fidgeting, shifting feet, and breaking eye contact. These are all signs that on TV appear to the viewer that you are HIDING something. Since body language is tied to your thoughts any thing you are thinking WILL come out in your body language. This is why you can not be thinking about defending what happened or else your body language will be nervous or combative.
  3. Avoid all “yes” or “no” answers. Why? Because as you saw with Tom your answer can be edited down to that simple word and the rest of your explanation left out. Always focus your answer so it can NOT be edited down.
  4. Speak in terms of sound bites. Reporters are looking for short phrases and succinct messaging. Therefore, if your answer is too longwinded they will opt to just NOT use it as it is too hard to edit it down. Try to give quick concise answers.
  5. Avoid the words “but” or “however” as they can edit out what you say before or after that message and completely turn around what you were saying.
  6. Use proactive body language that shows confidence and leadership. This includes looking directly at the viewer (that would be the camera), have your feet firmly planted about shoulder width apart, relax your shoulders, keep your hands up by your waist or completely down at your sides, and have your weight balanced slightly more on one hip (this will give a relaxed pose).
  7. Talk to the reporter the way you would convincingly talk to a good friend over a cup of coffee. Keep it professional but relaxed. Don’t try to impress them. Instead make sure you know in your head and heart the story you wish to deliver. Then you can take each question the reporter asks you and ALIGN it with the STORY you are trying to deliver so you can put the positive spin on it.

Let’s look at how using these Seven Cardinal Rules, Tom could have turned his media experience in to a positive event for his company.

First, he should have taken a deep breath and relaxed BEFORE he talked to the reporter to release his nervousness. He should have shifted his focus from defending what happened and why it wasn’t his company’s fault, which led him to have nervous and combative body language.

Second, he should have thought about the STORY he wanted to convey to the viewer. That story should have been focused on how even with two non-predictable occurrences having a solid process can mitigate the damage that could have been caused if there was NO process in place. With this focus he could have pre-empted the reporter’s question and moved the story from what his company did wrong to what companies can do when the unexpected happens.

Third, he should have answered the reporter’s question by saying, “When you have two unusual circumstances that are out of your control as we had in this situation, the most important thing is how to use the great processes in place you have to handle the unexpected. In this situation our team did just that by…. (List specific things here).”

You can see how no matter how they splice that sound bite you will come out looking positive and reflective.

Remember the media is looking for a story so instead of making the media SEARCH for a story deliver it confidently to them!