Crisis Management Quotables…on Body Language

Your voice isn’t the only thing that speaks when it comes to crisis communications

While the words you choose certainly do matter when it comes to crisis communication, the way you hold yourself, your facial expressions, appearance, even what color tie you choose, all make a drastic difference in how you are perceived.

Who knows this better than a stage actor, who must effuse feeling and tone all the way to the balconies of a packed theater, sometimes without uttering a single word? That’s why we’ve looked to Tony winner Mary Martin, star of Broadway classics like South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music, for this week’s Crisis Management Quotable.

There is a world of communication which is not dependent on words. — Mary Martin

Public speaking is mind-numbingly terrifying for most of us. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from a fear of public speaking. Problem is, when your organization is in hot water and you step up to a mic, people won’t relate your shakiness or obvious discomfort as fear of public speaking, they will take it as a sign of guilt, putting you at a disadvantage before you’ve ever opened your mouth.

Before you ever attempt crisis communications in the public eye, take a test run. This is best done with a qualified media trainer, but you can do a passable job by setting up a camera and recording your delivery – and then letting your trusted peers critique you.

In our media training sessions with clients we take it a step further and simulate everything from a friendly reporter tossing softball questions to a loud, hostile audience (one of our favorite exercises, although those who have been subjected to it might say otherwise!).

Almost without exception, trainees are stunned at their body language when they watch the tape back, even those who thought they fared well. Speakers often cross their arms or lean away from an interviewer, appearing defensive. Licking the lips or darting eyes side-to-side are a couple more common mistakes that leave you looking far more nervous than you’d like. We’ve even seen nasty camera operators zoom in or angle their shot to ensure perspiration stands out loud and clear.

Another extremely damaging, and often overlooked, body language error is the contagious nod. It’s natural for many of us to nod along when someone is speaking, indicating we’re following. Thing is, if someone is reciting a list of accusations against your organization, the last thing you want to do is nod along with every line.

At the core of effective crisis communication are what we call the Three C’s of Credibility – compassion, competence and confidence. All three of these are demonstrated more by body language than the words coming out of your mouth, making it critical to ensure your nonverbal communication is sending the right message.

The BCM Blogging Team

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