When most of us think about making a presentation, we don't typically think of having to do that in the aftermath of a tragic event. Yet that is the situation faced this week by Washington, DC and NTSB (National Traffic Safety Board) officials following Monday's subway train disaster in which 9 people were killed and many others injured. Mesmerized by the television coverage of the shocking accident, I couldn't help but observe (and be proud of) how skillfully these officials communicated to the public in this difficult situation.
There was no PowerPoint. There was no time to rehearse. But there was an audience of reporters, commuters, family members desperate for information and assurances.
WHAT ARE THE PRESENTATION LESSONS?
Among the presentation lessons worth noting:
- At Monday night's press conference, all presenters started their remarks with condolences for the families of the victims, recognizing that no matter what details, facts or explanations they might be providing, at the core, this presentation needed to connect with the audience on a human level.
- Debbie Hersman, NTSB Lead Investigator and Dennis Rubin, DC Fire Chief, instilled confidence in the audience by assuring them that the accident scene was under control and that both entities had a clear idea of their objectives going forward. They looked directly into the cameras and spoke clearly, explaining what the next steps were, what they already knew and how their investigation would proceed. Transparency in providing details is a key strategy in crisis communications. As Dan Hicks describes here, in his blog, Communicating Through a Crisis, the court of public opinion is unforgiving when it appears that information is being withheld or officials are hiding behind corporate shields.
- One can only imagine how difficult it was for John Catoe, General Manager of WMATA (Washington MetropolitanArea Transit Authority) as he stood before the cameras, having lost one of his employees and ultimately holding responsibility for the accident. Visibly moved, he spoke with sincerity and simplicity. With no euphemisms or gobbledy-gook, he gave the details he had.
(this clip is not of the press conference I referred to, but it does give you a sense of the speakers' styles)
Here are some additional ideas about managing crisis communications. Let us hope that none of us will ever have to make a presentation following a disaster. But the lessons learned from how communication was handled in the Metro accident will be valid for any of our presentations: concern for the audience, sincerity, transparency and quiet confidence.
Here are some additional ideas about managing crisis communications.
Let us hope that none of us will ever have to make a presentation following a disaster. But the lessons learned from how communication was handled in the Metro accident will be valid for any of our presentations: concern for the audience, sincerity, transparency and quiet confidence.