Improve Your Presentation Skills: Crisis Communication in Emergency Situations

Crisis communication is a vital part of not only our presentation skills, but of our leadership skills as well. A crisis situation creates uncertainty, leading in some cases to panic. So you need a crisis communications plan to deal with anyone who will be concerned if your group has a major problem, and those problems can range from an unexpected drop in stock prices to a bad production run, product recall, environmental spill, legal problem, critical accident, bankruptcy or natural disaster.

While each of these emergencies benefit from unique handling, the idea in this article is to give you some general approaches which will help you to develop and improve your presentation skills for a crisis situation.

Essential Elements

First and foremost, your role is to reassure your immediate listeners and others who may be significantly affected by the emergency. Here are a couple of suggestions:

Get the word out as quickly as you can to as many affected people as you can.

That means that for at least one person, this has to be top priority when disaster strikes. It is useful to have a backup person somewhere else or with another organization if there is a small staff on the scene.

The Air France crash in Toronto is an example of where this could have been useful. The entire local staff went out to help rescue passengers, but it meant that people waiting to greet people who were on the plane had no one to turn to for information or reassurance. Despite the positive outcome of the situation, the company received a strong negative reaction for the lack of a spokesperson.

Most crisis situations are fraught with a lack of information, or worse, a mix of real and disinformation. So when we say “Get the word out,” don’t jump into the latest rumour you have heard.

Even though your listeners may be frantic for facts, they still appreciate you telling them what you are doing to find those facts if you don’t yet have them. “We are looking into it” is more likely to incense than reassure. Tell them, “Our hydraulics engineer is testing the pressure to determine a safe level,” or “The vice-president will meet with all managers and union leaders on October 1 to determine a back-to-work strategy.” Now they have something to sink their teeth into.

Be empathetic.

This is truly the time to “walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.” Whether it’s a random case of product-induced illness or a full-scale natural disaster, people are fearful. They are often exhausted, uncomfortable and angry.

Use a lot of inclusive language (we, us, our). Indicate that you are aware of their collective uncertainty, discomfort or loss, and that your primary intent (along with that of your organization) is to ease their concern as much as you can and as soon as you can.

As part of the overall corporate, association, governmental or political risk management plan, select the people who can best convey reassurance and empathy. Is that you?

If you have nothing else to offer, provide basic human compassion.

Patience, at this time, is truly a virtue.

Give your statement and then allow people to ask questions, even if you have already answered what they ask or are not able to supply the answer they need.

Unless the resolution of the crisis is something your organization can control and knows exactly how to do it, don’t outline specifics of what you plan to do. Simply indicate time frames for steps to resolve it.

Be flexible.

Every situation is unique. An experienced presenter, you know that each audience member deserves a tailored approach. This is especially true in crisis situations.

Plan ahead.

Even if your organization has no formal crisis communications plan, take a look at the possible situations which would call on you to reassure people, then plan ahead.

Improve your presentation skills and your ability to cope with unexpected situations by following our tips for crisis communication. Such situations give you the opportunity to either cause outrage or to display your formidable leadership and presentation skills. Choose the latter options, and with a solid crisis communications plan, your team should be able to handle any situation.

8 Tips To Make Your Business Presentations More Memorable

Are you creating a “slideument” for your presentations and wondering why you’re not getting the impact you want? What is a “slideument” you ask? Well, you create a great value proposition for your product and then launch right into a PowerPoint presentation that includes lots of text slides to support your message. The merger of a document and a slide presentation is what Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen calls this a “slideument”.

I’m sure you’ve been the victim of one of these presentations where the room is darkened and despite efforts to the contrary, everyone is nodding off to sleep. This is definitely not an effective way to capture the attention of the audience, especially today when everyone is so into pictures and video on their tablets and smart phones. Yet, you think, “What am I to do? This is business, I must show facts, storytelling is for children, for the movies and for social occasions. I must show ROI information and sales forecasts to be effective.”

Not so! Storytelling has been an effective means of communication for over 2,000 years. And it’s becoming more and more important in business. We think in pictures, video, and stories – so to make your presentations more memorable, you must learn to make these elements central to your presentation. Yes, you must include facts, but there are ways that are more effective than a slideument to communicate and support your message. A simple chart can convey the main message. A takeaway document with the details or a website link can provide more depth if necessary.

We’re learning from experts like Steve Jobs, Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, Bo Eason and others that telling a great story makes a message stick. That’s exactly what Chip and Dan Heath tell us in their book Made to Stick and what Gary Klein relates in the chapter titled “The Power of Stories” his book Sources of Power. So how can you make your next presentation more memorable?

Here’s a few tips to get you started:

1. Start with paper and pencil – don’t start in PowerPoint or Keynote

2. Note why you’re speaking and what is your main point

3. Structure your message with an attention-grabbing beginning, a middle with supporting information, and an ending that tells your audience what you want them to do when you’re done speaking.

4. Start by describing the current situation and make sure your audience resonates with it. Then tell them what the future could be by painting a compelling picture and getting them to imagine having a role in the picture. The key to remembering and taking action is to envision participating in the action. The unconscious mind records it and remembers it as if it were real. Visualization is how many sports stars improve their game.

5. Once they have the picture, tell them what action they should take. End on a high note with the audience knowing what they should do and feeling compelled to take that action. Be sure to include a description of the reward they will receive for taking action. Also, tell them that it is not always easy but the reward is worth the effort.

6. Once you’ve outlined your story, select pictures and short video segments to support your message. Use full screen photos and video for the majority of the presentation. The fewer the words, the better. Some key messages or quotes should be sufficient.

7. As you write the details of your script, be conversational. Your audience will pay more attention if you’re conversational. They will also feel more a part of the story or presentation.

8. Study the experts. Visit YouTube and view presentations by the people mentioned in this article. Buy their books and make notes.

Continue to practice and refine your skills using these tips. You will find that you get more attention and interaction from your audience.

The Secret to Powerful Presentation Skills? Stay Present

“Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.”
~ Actress Jessica Lange, speaking at the Sarah Lawrence College graduation ceremony.

Being lost in the past and anticipating the future is exactly what was making Suzanne so anxious.

I had helped her write her speech for the national sales meeting and she had been practicing with me for the past week. I knew she was ready. She had doubts.

“What are you worried about?” I asked.

She first answered with her concerns about the future. “My boss and all the other executives will be there, to say nothing of the 150 sales reps. What if I forget what I’m going to say?”

“What if” is a question I hear a lot. “What if I’m asked a question I can’t answer?” “What if I don’t persuade the audience?” What if I look foolish?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I’m nervous?”

I make my living helping people answer “what if?” questions. This is the job of all trainers, whether the training is for war or the workplace. People attend training classes to help them practice dealing with future “what if?” situations, hoping that the real world will at least approximate the training class.

Close behind Suzanne’s “what if?” questions were her “why didn’t I?” memories of what had happened in the past. She recalled the time she forgot what she was going to say and worried that this might happen again.

I also hear these questions a lot. Sometimes, as with Suzanne, I hear them before a talk has been delivered but more often afterwards. “Why didn’t I make better eye contact with the audience?” “Why didn’t I take more time to prepare?” “Why didn’t I speak louder?” “Why didn’t I think of an answer to that question?”

A better question to ask than “what if?” or “why didn’t I?” is “what’s so?” What’s so is that your hands are/were shaking. What’s so is that you forgot what you are/were going to say. What’s so is that your slides can’t/couldn’t be shown.

The answer to the question “what’s so?” is what is happening in the present moment. The quote from Jessica Lange suggests the value of this question.

Stay present. In reality, there is no past and there is no future. In reality, there is only the present. Delivering a powerful presentation requires staying present. As I told Suzanne, if you stay present, you’ll find a way to deal with whatever happens, with whatever is “what’s so?”

When you stay present, you’ll find that, when you don’t know the answer, you naturally say, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” When you can’t show your slides, you apologize and read from your notes, putting what you can on a flip chart or board. If your hands are shaking, you let them shake without telling yourself how embarrassed you are. If you lose your train of thought you say, “I forgot. Give me a moment to check my notes.”

When you stay present, “what if?” and “why didn’t I?” go away. Even the question “what’s so?” is replaced by “so what?” Whatever happens is no big deal.

Audiences don’t care if you’re “lost in the past or anticipating the future.” Their sole concern is whether you care about them and their needs.

Be passionate in the present and “what if?” or “why didn’t I?” won’t make a bit of difference.