Speech, whether in real time or via digital avenues, is challenging for leaders. The ability to reach a worldwide audience in seconds with knee-jerk reactions mixed with a lack of overall awareness and business pressure creates a perfect recipe for conditions that can kill a career in sixty seconds or less. Today, it's even more important than ever to have a handy tool-kit when dealing with media, no matter what the level, under emotional strain.
The trend of foot-in-mouth of high-profile business players has been growing for quite some time, from the tweet that ended the reign of former head of IAC communications Justine Sacco several years ago to the major faux pas of Saleforce CEO Marc Benioff just a few months ago. Opinions, language, and sentiment are being scrutinized more deeply and swiftly reprimanded. Such thoughts exposed to reporters can become even more explosive.
We all regret certain conversational exchanges or written correspondences. But the stakes are getting increasingly high, with little room for error. So how do you best prepare for and manage heated or spontaneous and potentially damaging emotional response--during media interaction, in particular?
Here are three ways:
1. Remember to keep it professional.
"You always have to remember that reporters are not your friends, they are professional acquaintances," suggests Adam Chiara, a professor of communications at the University of Hartford.
Chiara says that even though you may really click well with a reporter and develop a relationship with him or her to always keep in mind that they have a job to do. "So if you call and vent to them, or pass information along to them, you should assume they are going to publish it," he explains.
2. Practice talking to the media.
"Practice being in tough interviews. If you have an opportunity to do media training, take it," advises David Warschawski, CEO of Warschawksi, a Baltimore-based PR and branding agency. Warschawskisays that some tools one can also apply are taking deep breaths or a drink of water before responding, saying "that's a good/interesting question..." before offering a response.
"These tactics help buy you time and give you a moment to gather your thoughts on how to respond," Warschawskisays.
3. Publicly protect your coworkers.
"Never throw colleagues under the bus," says Jennifer Lee Magas of PR consulting firm Magas Media. She suggests that you shouldn't act as if you're a solo operator--especially if you're in a leadership position.
"To blindly insult or blame either past or current employees is to throw both you and your company's reputation down the drain," she adds. In other words: Always maintain a united front and you'll come out better for it.
Speaking out of turn can have far reaching consequences no matter whether the platform is a national media outlet or an employee blog. The doubling down on the mantra think before you speak is needed now, more than ever.