Uh-oh. Something’s wrong, and a few people (or a few hundred) are counting on you for information right this second. How are you going to talk to them?
The first rule, yes, is to “always be cool on the radio.” You’re in control of what you say and how you say it, even when things are out of control.
Most people understand this, even if we don’t always sound as cool as we’d like to under pressure. Some people, however, over-learn this lesson — and instead of sounding like the very much in control pilot of Southwest 1380, they sound like the airline industry at its worst: “We regret to inform you that nothing is going to plan, and we do remind you that none of this is under our control.”
It’s amazing how leaders in crisis so often speak in a passive, Latinate, verb-free vocabulary that utterly fails to convince or satisfy the audience. (This is even more the case when they read statements prepared by somebody else, which too often sound neither sincere nor even like themselves.)
Calm counts for a lot in crisis communications, but clarity and compassion count, too. As the airlines never seem to learn, most people might not understand the complexity of your business or your challenge, but they can almost always cut through a compound-complex obfuscation. In the long run, taking responsibility costs a lot less in time, money, and trust than verbally distancing yourself from the problem.
Next time something goes wrong, compose yourself, compose your thoughts, and compose your message. And if it sounds like a “pre-boarding” announcement or a “last and final call,” revise it before you touch the microphone.
After all, you’re still in control. And everyone listening knows that.