How to Respond to a Crisis

Follow The Public Speaker's 3 golden rules for responding to a crisis to disarm and minimize the fall-out

Lisa B. Marshall
2-minute read

Rule #1: Be first and Be Fast!

Be the first to break the news. Don’t wait for reporters to start camping out. Don’t hide, or the media and your supporters will assume you are hiding for a reason. That’s why it’s best for you to come forward immediately, so that you can define the issue in the most favorable terms possible. If you don’t define the issue, others will do it for you. That way, when you do break the news, it helps to release the information to a favorable audience.

David Letterman did it right when he was the first to release the news of his affairs with staffers to a loyal and sympathetic studio audience. On the other hand, Tiger Woods waited nearly a week. He did, however, finally post an apology to his supporters through his website, but by that time it was too late and he had few sympathizers. For corporations, it’s also important to remember that immediate internal communication is as crucial as communication with the public. 

Rule #2: Be Honest

The next rule of crisis management is to be honest.  Don’t sugarcoat the issue; always tell the truth. Say as much as you can. You don’t necessarily have to tell everything at once. But don’t tell half-truths or lies.  If there’s damaging information, be sure it comes directly from you, so you can present your side of the story. David Letterman handled his crisis correctly by directly stating he had affairs with woman staffers. How about Tiger Woods? On his website he admits to "transgressions." To me, that counts as sugarcoating and doesn’t stop the speculation or directly address the rumors.

Rule #3: Be Responsible

Finally, it’s important to show concern. Acknowledge uncertainty.  Acknowledge misbehaviors. Apologize for errors. If you were wrong, say you were wrong. If you or your company caused injury, apologize sincerely. This is the time to be more human than professional. In this regard, Tiger Woods was on target. He wrote, "I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology." But again, it would have been better if this came directly from him right away rather than after a whirlwind of media speculation.

Press Conference image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.