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Shining in the spotlight.

The spotlight makes your eyes squint and the audience grows restive as you approach the microphone. Your predecessor hands you the gavel that officially launches your term.

There you are--a newly elected or appointed association volunteer leader. You give your speech, sit down, and say, "Thank goodness that's over. I don't like those lights in my eyes."

But it's not over. Being an association volunteer leader means being in the spotlight. Often that spotlight helps make your leadership experience exciting and fulfilling. Sometimes, however, the spotlight illuminates a pivotal moment in your term--a moment at which you are called on to manage a crisis issue affecting the members of your association.

Picture this: You're driving to work one morning and hear on the radio news broadcast that a product distributed or manufactured by members of your association has been targeted as a public health risk. Or an act committed by a member of the profession represented by your association is being used by the media to criticize the standards or integrity of the profession as a whole. Or perhaps a government official is attacking the product or profession represented by your association as being somehow contrary to the best interests of the American public.

There are at least a thousand variations on the same theme, but what happens next is common to all: You receive a call from concerned association staff, other members of the board, or members themselves. Worse yet, a throng of reporters and camera crews has tracked you down to get your explanation of events, your reaction to the disaster, your recommendations to make things right.

In the first tense moments of media contact following the eruption of a crisis, you may have but one brief, highly public opportunity to make it right. How you'll perform depends to a great extent on whether you've been professionally trained to work effectively with the media.

Without warning

Right now, you may be thinking that crisis communication isn't the type of issue with which you'll have to contend. After all, the business or interest represented by your association is not controversial and not likely to attract media scrutiny.

That may once have summed up the attitude of Charlie Norris, former president of the International Bottled Water Association, Alexandria, Virginia. A couple of years ago, when I was teaching an ASAE course on media training, I said even an association as noncontroversial as IBWA might someday face a media crisis. Bottled water, I suggested, was vulnerable to sabotage and controversy just as Tylenol capsules had once been. A few months after this course, IBWA did face a crisis--accidental contamination of one brand of bottled water with benzene.

Geary Campbell, former IBWA public relations manager, recalls that the entire industry was suddenly placed under the media microscope. More than 60 media outlets requested background information on bottled water production techniques so that they could explain how the product could be contaminated.

Fortunately, Campbell had taken ASAE's media training course, which taught staff how to work together with elected leaders to effectively manage a crisis communication situation.

"Without having a media-trained president like Charlie Norris, it would have been impossible to handle this crisis and put the best information forward for our members and the industry," recalls Campbell.

"The next day, the story appeared on the front pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, and on every major electronic media outlet imaginable." Media training enabled IBWA to do a great deal of damage control for the association, its members, and the entire bottled water industry.

You may be one of the few elected leaders whose association has never been touched by crisis. While that's fortunate, keep in mind that surveys have documented that members are quite concerned about public image even in the absence of crisis. You may, for example, find yourself a part of a media tour, in which association members meet with editors and reporters to raise public or trade-media awareness. Professional media training is the preparedness you need to shine in any media spotlight, be it a crisis or routine information gathering.

Risks and rewards

The pace of communication in today's world is relentless. It's an unfortunate fact that accuracy in reporting sometimes takes a back seat to expediency. The winners in the media wars are sometimes those who can report earliest and with the greatest amount of drama. Today's environment is a volatile setting in which every crisis poses a potential threat to the position of any executive on whom the media focus.

Keep in mind, however, that media exposure--particularly television exposure--offers opportunity as well as risk. I worked for many years with a man who was fond of saying that crisis and opportunity are one and the same. That's certainly the case with media exposure.

If the prospect of dealing with the press seems daunting, relax. Media training can help.

Make yourself media-ready

Answering a reporter's questions is only a means of accomplishing your objective: to communicate your message the way you want it to come across. Obviously, an interview can be a test of wills and skill between you and the interviewer, but the opportunity and the potential reward are well worth the effort.

If you are appearing on television, your interview typically will be part of a live or taped segment on either a news or issue-oriented program. The time you'll have available to get your message out will be brief--sound-bite brief.

The constraints of broadcast journalism in particular dictate a strict style of presentation: You listen to the question, think about how to respond (which doesn't necessarily mean simply to provide an answer to the question), and then respond concisely. Making your point concisely will help to ensure that your response won't be edited. That formula doesn't sound terribly complicated, but it demands preparation.

Frequently I use the expression "pack your bags" to represent the preparation necessary to ensure that you communicate your message during an interview. Here are the basics of packing your bags for a media encounter.

* Develop your message. Focus on the message you want to deliver. Working with association staff, create file cards outlining your message, and phrase it into 20-second sound bites. Have an alternate message to fall back on should your primary message get sidetracked.

During the presidential campaign, Bill Clinton very successfully took a complicated issue--the economy--and explained it in prepackaged 20-second sound bites. Rather than trying to explain the virtues of his economic plan, he basically stated and restated that "trickle-down economics hasn't worked. The experiment is 12 years old and it has failed. My plan has been backed by Nobel Prize-winning economists--it is time for a change."

* Have an objective. Start an interview with a goal in mind. If possible, watch the program on which you'll be appearing to determine whether the interviewer is friendly or hostile so that you can develop the appropriate strategy.

During the presidential campaign, Clinton's objective was to focus the interview on his opponent's negatives, tap viewers' fears, and ask them to change.

* Use anecdotes and analogies. Television isn't an effective medium for a recitation of dry facts; leave that to the scholarly journals. Create images that will register with the viewers, keep them interested, and prompt recall. Saying that a new runway is several thousand feet long is giving a statistic; saying that a new runway is 30 football fields long is presenting an image.

* Anticipate questions. What would you ask if you were in the reporter's position? It's a good idea to role-play, pretending that you are the reporter interviewing you. Don't just lob yourself simple questions either; pay special attention to sensitive or confrontational issues.

Expect a reporter's questions to center around a predictable range of themes: What is the issue? What are your concerns? Who is being affected? What do you hope to achieve? What are you going to do about it?

Remember that even the friendliest reporter must ask at least one devil's advocate question. When that happens, be prepared to "bridge" to your message. Bridging means bypassing the question you don't want to answer by making a transition to your message. For example, in response to a reporter's question, you might respond "That's a good question, but the real issue here is . . . ."

Once again, your primary goal should be to use your answers to the reporter's questions to get your message out. To do that effectively, you must take control of the interview and subtly but consistently direct the focus to your agenda.

* Rehearse. Get someone to ask you the questions you've developed and practice your responses out loud.

* Wear conservative clothing. To project a positive image, choose dark business suits rather than light. Button jackets and wear plain shoes. For men, plain ties work best and pastel-colored shirts or blouses are preferable to pure white.

* Know the ground rules. Whether you will be engaged in a spontaneous or a prearranged interview, expect certain standards of courtesy from the interviewer. For example, you have the right to know who will be interviewing you and the organization that person represents.

On the air

Remember that what you say and how you say it are both important to the success of your interview. Proper preparation will enable you to look capable. It's your style, however, that will project that all-important quality of confidence.

* Take charge. From the moment you enter the studio, take charge of the interview process. Introduce yourself to the reporter, director, camera person, and other media staff members who are participating in the interview. Project openness and casual self-assurance.

Ask questions about the interview. Possibilities include, "Will the program be live or taped? Who else will be appearing on the program? Have you covered our industry before? What has the other side told you about this issue?"

Also explain who you are, what you do, and why you are qualified to do it. Do not use trade lingo or acronyms that require translation.

* Watch your posture and body language. The screen exaggerates movements and expressions, so tailor them appropriately. If you're standing for an interview, stand casually but solidly--shifting around will make you look anxious or unreliable. During a stand-up interview, the camera will generally focus tightly on your face; body or hand movements can be a distraction. Let your arms rest at your sides.

If you're sitting for the interview, sit with your derriere pushed back in the chair, and lean slightly forward. Never clasp your hands. An old expression in the TV business is that after they tie the hands, they put on the blindfold. A sitting interview, particularly a panel format, calls for limited hand gestures.

Whether you sit or stand, always look at the reporter--not the camera. It's the camera person's job to find you.

* Speak clearly and deliver an important message. Don't speak loudly to try to make your point; the cool medium of television can make you appear fanatical or out of control. Instead, speak clearly and make your point with the content of your message.

* Keep it brief. Lengthy analytical messages don't fit into the constraints of broadcast journalism. Keep your comments concise and focused on your message.

* Say it again. Remember, you're there to deliver a message. The reporter may ask a wide variety of questions, but you should bridge from the reporter's questions to your message as subtly but as frequently as possible. It's likely that your 10-minute standing interview will be condensed into a 25-second spot with an 8-second quote from you. Returning to your message will help ensure that the quote that airs will be the message you want to get out.

A few more don'ts

I've talked about quite a few things you should do, but there also are a few practices to avoid.

* Don't restate an opposing point in your answer. This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many interviewees reinforce an opponent's point even as they argue against it.

* Don't be defensive. On television, indignation and defense often come across as whining. Respond with facts that you present calmly and with self-assurance.

* Don't be stunned into silence. If you're confronted by an outrageous charge, say so, and return to your message.

* Don't be afraid to say "I don't know."

* Don't fail to return to what you were saying if you are interrupted. Mentally mark the spot at which you were interrupted, and return to it with an appropriate comment: "As I was saying," or, "The point I was making a moment ago is that. . . ."

* Don't limit your answers to a terse yes or no. Television editors don't like one-word answers, and your response will almost certainly be edited out. If you are responding to a question that includes a message of yours, then improve upon the question in your response: "Is it true that your members must pass twice-a-year physicals?" "Yes, our members are required by federal regulations to pass rigorous twice-a-year physicals."

* Don't use lingo or acronyms. "We believe it's essential that aircraft operating in a TCA be equipped with TCAS." A few viewers might know that TCA stands for terminal control area (the controlled air space around an airport), and that TCAS stands for traffic alert and collision avoidance system. Most viewers, however, would not understand the statement.

If you remember only one word from this article, make that word preparation. Media exposure can give your organization an extraordinary opportunity for free positive publicity but only if you are ready.

Don Skiados is executive vice president of the Association of Independent Airmen, Washington, D.C., and president of ProActive Communications and Training.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Leadership: An Association Management Supplement for Volunteer Leaders 1993; handling media exposure
Author:Skiados, Don
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Apprehension or opportunity?
Next Article:Thinking about thinking.

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