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.