Chaos, excitement, sensation. You might have prepared yourself for it, or perhaps you completely did not. In both cases it is very different that you had ever imagined it to be. Telephone calls, stressed out colleagues, panic everywhere. The eyes of the outside world are directed at you, but internally you are not provided with the right information at the right moment. The fate of the crisis communication consultant: stress!
Recently it was chaos in Den Bosch. A bomb alert at the train station. Station evacuated, area cleared, man arrested. Very quickly on Twitter: a cacophony of observations and opinions of spectators. Local media did not take long to add to the discussion, followed only a little bit later by the national press.
I imagine that the telephone at the NS was ringing off the hook all morning by everyone and everything. What is going on? What are you going to do? Is there a bomb? Is this an attack?
Tricky, because the answers to those questions were not there yet. Or was there? All of a sudden there was the message that explosives had been found. It was not confirmed by the police, but it was confirmed by the NS. That message was quickly withdrawn.
There was no bomb at all. In fact, there had never been a bomb. A lot of chaos, not a lot of excitement and sensation. A confused man in a white cloth. A present for anyone who did not have a carnival outfit yet, but that was all there was to it. Was it a matter of not enough preparation, or just too much pressure at once?
I was reminded of an important lesson about crisis communication that I once learned. As a preparation to a possible issue a colleague of mine put me in a difficult situation in a role playing game. I had to keep my head cool, but I was driven insane by all the questions that he fired at me in his role as a journalist. It was hard.
Then he said something very important: as a spokesman you are nothing more than a stupid parrot. That is your role. The role of the journalist to get you out of that role. Just to get that one exciting scoop. That is the game.
Realising that that is my role, always allows me to keep the pressure off. Of course, that only works if you are well prepared and able to device a statement. But being well prepared is not always an option and for a statement you sometimes only need ten minutes. At the moment when it has to happen, when the stress strikes, that comparison with the parrot still always works best.
Originally published by Maud Geerbex under the title “Crisis? Rawk!” . Thanks for allowing us to reproduce it.