Media & Crisis Communications – The role of the CEO

You’ve drilled. You’ve done your homework.

Your communications and senior management team have a well-formulated crisis plan. Everyone knows their roles and is prepared to take the right steps toward containing and getting ahead of the crisis.

When the real crisis hits however, too many companies are stymied by indecision and second-guessing. Too many CEO’s won’t trust that carefully crafted plan to steer the organization forward. What’s behind all the additional road-blocks and inaction that adds precious hours, days and even weeks to your response time?

It may be that your crisis plan is missing a key ingredient: an on-going and clearly defined role for your CEO.

Don’t underestimate the amount of pressure a real crisis will bring to bear on the head of the team. The real role of the CEO, beyond making sure those in authority have what they need to make quick and meaningful decisions and being a primary voice in calming key stakeholders, will be to make sure everyone knows of and continues on the right road toward your carefully planned recovery.

Internal audiences, in particular, feel they have the right to know what’s going on: the bad as well as the good. They’re right. And no one is better suited than the CEO to making sure those lines of communication are and remain open through a crisis.

So what can you do to make sure your CEO is in the right role during a time of crisis? Here are five step checklist to make sure your CEO stays on track to play a central communications role:

    Your CEO’s key role must not be limited to operational decisions in time of crisis. Make sure your CEO doesn’t become bogged down in the detail of operational functions, forcing him or her to delegate communication to others. Institute a formal process for CEO communication with both internal and external key audiences. Make it a priority and, as soon as possible, make your CEO a source for information with those key stakeholders.
    Yes, you’ll want to make sure there’s a limited number of spokespeople at a time of crisis, but there’s no need for your CEO or your PIO (public information officer) to be the only source of information. He or she cannot and will not be on the job 24/7, so make sure there are alternatives and that there’s a mechanism for keeping messages well coordinated.
    No one is better positioned to frame the crisis and its response than your CEO for external, but even more importantly, internal audiences. Those audiences need to know that the crisis is fully recognized and they must hear how the company’s core values align with your crisis response. Make sure your own employees are on board and understanding what is taking place and why.
    Temporary websites, hotlines and media outreach are proven methods of keeping the media and the public informed during a crisis. Make sure your CEO messages can be heard and read through all sources. Put your CEO in the forefront of response, and position your company as the go-to resource for the crisis as early as possible.
    Fight the very natural inclination to tighten the circle and issue pronouncements from the top without interaction and input. Answer the need for those impacted by the crisis, both internally and externally, to have a voice in the outcome of your next moves and to know they’re listened to. Allow some kind of on-line or in person feedback mechanism to help make sure your CEO doesn’t become isolated from those most immediately impacted.

Aileen Pincus is a former reporter,U.S. Senate executive staffer, and public relations executive, who now provides crisis and media training, as well as presentation and speech training, as president of her own communications firm in Maryland. She can be reached or at (301) 938-6000.

The Power in Presentations: a warning for senior executives

We can easily recognize why presentation skills are so highly prized. Credit for the work usually goes hand in hand with those who are accomplished at speaking and explaining the work. That’s why senior executives in particular, know the value of coaching. They know their work can’t and won’t speak for itself–They’ll have to become adept and making others understand and appreciate it’s importance and their contribution to it.

The positive impact on careers and reputation that powerful presentations have is understood to a greater degree than the flip side of the equation. Poor presentations also leave deep impressions that can unfortunately cause real and lasting damage. A poor business presentation can leave the impression that it’s not just the presentation that’s not up to par, but our work or our competence generally. Even if your reputation can withstand such doubt, it’s important to understand just how much damage a poor presentation can have. These are missed opportunities at publicly proving the value of our good work and they take on added weight for senior executives, especially when ‘presenting up’.

When they present to those they report to, executives tend to put a lot of thought and practice into their presentations. Under the stress of workloads however, that commitment can slip. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t change the equation. Speak poorly and others will question more than your oral presentation skills. They’ll question your very abilities.

That’s why it’s so important for senior executives to heed this warning. You simply cannot allow yourself to be standing before others unprepared. If time pressure prevents adequate preparation, look for alternatives. You might delegate the task on occasion and give others a chance to show their competence. You might look for other means of presenting information, such as written summaries, or delegate part of the task, such as putting together drafts. Do what you have to do to control those high-stakes appearances and limit them to those times you are confident and ready.

Solidifying a great reputation will take more than the occasional home run. Show up ready for your best, each and every game!

PowerPoint or No PowerPoint: That is the question

During every coaching session, the question is sure to come up. “Do I have to to use PowerPoint in my presentation?” PowerPoint has become almost synonymous in some circles with the modifier “boring”, but that’s not the fault of the tool. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of that tool’s purpose.

Before you toss the tool, ask yourself whether you’ve been using it effectively. Are your slides packed with text? Is the point of each slide difficult to follow? Are the slides chiefly there to help you communicate your points? Are you using your slides both as presentation tools and as handouts for the audience to read and refer to later?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may not be using PowerPoint very effectively.  Remember, if your audience can see and hear you, you need to be communicating differently than if you sent your information in an email, or mailed out printed material. Oral communication demands something different from both the presenter and the presentation. [Read more…]

Do Presentations Or Public Speaking Terrify You?

“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” ~ Mark Twain

I offer communications training, including business writing, presentation skills training, and media relations. The latter two, I’ve found, have much in common in that they force one to stand up and talk to strangers who may or may not be receptive. Over the years, I’ve come up with several teaching points, largely by watching accomplished professionals draw audiences in and make them comfortable, open to new ideas, and eager to share in what becomes a productive conversation. [Read more…]