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Monday, July 29, 2013

Medical Intern "Boot Camp" -- Life and Death and Communication

Few crises are as immediate as those faced by doctors and medical personnel with patients in life and death situations.

And nothing prepares a doctor – particularly a novice hospital intern – for a crisis like a simulation. Which is why the scenario-based  "Boot Camp" for interns at Chicago’s highly-rated Northwestern Memorial Hospital is considered one of the nation's most rigorous programs preparing interns for real life health care.

During a 3-day program interns face several high-pressure situations. These include an actual life-and-death scenario in an Emergency Room or an Intensive Care Unit, and demonstrating effective communication with a dying patient played by an actor in a session titled "Difficult Conversations." As the Boot Camp Director said, complicated as medical procedures can be, interns typically have a harder time with difficult conversations at the bedside.

 Though specific to interns in this case, the latter two program elements dovetail with what we at CommCore tell all our crisis clients:

·         Simulations are essential to crisis team building and for testing crisis response and protocols in any environment or organization

·         To be effective, communicators must be trained to develop and deliver messages calibrated to a particular situation, and to the intended audience including individuals, internal and external stakeholders, and the media.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to Stand Your Ground -- On Live TV

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D- MA, recently delivered an object lesson in how to effectively stand one's ground in a tough live broadcast interview.

Appearing on CNBC's "Squawk Box" to defend her proposed legislation to break up the big banksWarren withstood a barrage of challenging and skeptical – even scolding – questions from several of the program's hosts by refusing to acknowledge their unrelenting criticisms. By the end, the hosts pulled back in their aggressive challenges and complimented her on-air for her knowledge.

The lessons? We at CommCore will use this video clip as an example to our Media Training clients of how anticipation and preparation can effectively blunt reporters’ agenda in a challenging live interview. Senator Warren scored as follows:

·         She was ready with relevant facts (and just a few). She used them to blunt attacks point-by-point based on differing interpretations of those facts.

·         She wasn't scared to scold back when scolded. "No, No, No, that is just wrong," she interrupted several times when she felt the interviewers were misrepresenting facts or trends, and immediately corrected them.

·         She validated her liberal position by naming unexpected 3rd parties -- fellow senators who are conservatives and independents -- who agree with her in principle.

·         She was ready with an operative sound bite that was sure to stick: "If you don’t fight for it, the chances are zero."

·         Senator Warren showed passion, as the reporters acknowledged admiringly on-air at the end of the interview.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What does your handshake say about YOU?

Cliché: You only have one chance to make a first impression.

Clichés are both true and exaggeration.  So, in the spirit of the cliché, we call your attention to a Fast Company posting on handshakes. Complete with videos and examples, the online article talks about how the handshake is a critical part of job interviews, first meetings with clients and normal social interactions. 

The handshake is part of what communications trainers talk about as the critical non-verbals – eye contact, posture, gestures, clothing, facial expressions – that are part of the critical component of the overall communications.
At CommCore we have often used statistics from an Albert Mehrabian’s Silent Messages that argues that up to 55% of what the audience receives in communications is body language.  A recent tongue-in-cheek video entitled, “Busting the Mehrabian Myth”  suggests that 55% is overblown.

Whether it’s 55% or 20% or somewhere in between, the reality is that how we come across through body language and voice tone is critical to our credibility and what others think about us.  

Come on, don’t you notice when someone has a strong, convincing handshake AND they look you in the eye when you meet them?  Don’t you notice when all you get are a few fingers and not the full hand?  I do. 

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Storydoing: Storytelling in Action

A blog by Ty Montague in the Harvard Business Review commends the current trend for storytelling as part of marketing, sales and corporate reputation.

Montague’s article is a quick take on his new book True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business.  He argues that storytelling doesn’t go far enough.  Great storytellers convert the receivers and listeners into “doers” who then spread the word.  “…when people encounter a storydoing company they often want to tell all their friends about it. Storydoing companies create fierce loyalty and evangelism in their customers. Their stories are told primarily via word of mouth, and are amplified by social media tools.“

Chip and Dan Heath have their definition of storytelling in Made to Stick.

CommCore agrees with Montague and the Heaths.  We say it another way: When customers, employees and stakeholders receive information, they respond with 3 critical questions:  So What, Who Cares and WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). The story usually answers those questions, but sometime we need to go the step further with a statement such as:  Here’s why I told you that story.

We are bombarded with thousands of  messages a day that quickly vanish into the ether. The stories are what we remember…and if properly told…act on.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

A Whale of a Controversy

SeaWorld didn't wait to fight back against a documentary film released today that claims whales in captivity suffer physical and mental stress because of confinement. The park’s entertainment division pre-emptively sent a rebuttal to 50 movie critics a week before the movie was to premiere. As a crisis communications strategy it’s an aggressive move for a family-friendly brand.
Good move, or a misstep? From CommCore’s perspective as crisis communicators we see both sides.


·        SeaWorld may get its side of the story mentioned in the press earlier, and perhaps more prominently

·        SeaWorld's employees – including many well-meaning and respected marine biologists and animal trainers – will be heartened that the corporation came out so strongly in their defense

·        Park sponsors may think twice before having an initial negative knee-jerk reaction.


·        It may draw more attention to the movie and the claims of cruelty (witness the NY Times coverage, and the flashing "SeaWorld Reacts" button on the movie's website).

·        It may make SeaWorld seem more like an aggressor than a victim.

·        It may prompt the movie producers – and other animal rights activists – to step up their criticism of SeaWorld.

We'll be watching to see how it plays out in coming weeks.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

More Lessons from the Coaching Ranks

We have blogged previously on communications lessons involving sports coaches. The first news conference by David Moyes, who replaced coaching legend Sir Alex Ferguson at Britain's famed Manchester United soccer club, offers an excellent example of deft media handling.

Over 26 years the brash Ferguson coached "Man-U" into a British and European champion and a sports brand on par with the New York Yankees. The low-key Moyes spent the past 11 years in relative obscurity as the successful coach of smaller market soccer club Everton, based in Liverpool…an excellent team on the fringes of greatness that never had the resources to compete with the big guys in British soccer.
How did Moyes fare under his first media scrutiny as Man-U coach?

1) He was grilled on the future of Man-U superstar Wayne Rooney – a Ferguson protégé who is in high demand by other clubs in Europe. A reporter finally asked if Rooney had ever "categorically" stated that he did not intend to leave; Moyes replied, "I can categorically tell you that Wayne Rooney is training fantastically well."  Moyes cleverly seized on the reporter's use of the adverb "categorically" to dodge the question by responding with what he could "categorically" say. Point Moyes for recognizing and seizing the semantic opportunity.
2) Moyes then deflected questions about Ferguson saying Rooney told him he wanted to leave, by stating simply that he wasn't party to any private discussions between Sir Alex and Rooney. Point Moyes, for refusing to get drawn in to speculating.

3) And finally, in a particularly artful comment aimed at both the media AND Rooney, Moyes offered up the tantalizing prospect of Rooney matching or beating the record statistics of two other Man-U superstars, thus ensuring his everlasting legacy should he stay on. Point and match Moyes for closing with a statement that was both a widely-used quote for the media and a personal message to Rooney.

Moyes stuck by what we at CommCore advise our media training clients: Don’t speculate, avoid answering "false choice" A or B questions, learn how to “bridge” artfully to a message point, and have a compelling closing statement ready that will likely get picked up.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why are safety drills important? Ask Asiana Airlines flight attendants

One of the top media attention grabbers is an airplane crash at a major airport with dramatic video of the explosion and fire.

When Asiana Airlines flight 214 smacked the runway at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), it was all over global news in a twitter nano-second. I learned of it within minutes in Rome while waiting to board a flight back to the US.

Early reports are focusing on whether pilot error contributed the accident.  News reports note the pilot’s reported relatively few number of hours in the particular plane. The irony of the human error that may have caused the crash was the training, practice and quick thinking of the flight attendants in evacuating the entire aircraft in of 291 passengers and 16 crew in approximately 90 seconds despite an initial slide deployment glitch. The statement that the flight attendants “are on board primarily for your safety” was never more true. 

The crew exhibited remarkable professionalism in remaining calm and directing the passengers to safety.

CommCore commends Asiana’s team on their performance under the ultimate stress test.  The accident should encourage all organizations to take a look at their safety and emergency procedures. Also think about a drill or simulation to test your responses and internal and external communications.  Crisis plans are one thing; they work much better if they are tested and improved.  

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gesturing Abroad

In most cases containing physical gestures is key to effective public presentations. Looking like a windmill, arms flailing, is generally not recommended, at least in most American public forums.

But consider the rest of the world – in particular Italy – where experts say some 250 different gestures are used in everyday conversation.  Arm and hand gestures add inflection, passion, and emphasis, and are an important and even expected part of effective communication in that country.

Truth is, culture should very much be a consideration when preparing for public speaking. We at CommCore train our American clients speaking in business meetings to hold their hands in what we call the “ski pole” position – standing straight, forearms at waist level with hands apart, relaxed and open. Move hands for occasional emphasis with palms open, and don’t let your movements be so brusque as to become a distraction.

But when in Rome, should we not do as the Romans? When presenting in public in Italy or other Latin countries, should we not put our fingers to our lips and exaggerate a kiss if we approve of a point? Should we not raise our hands in mock supplication when asking a rhetorical question?
The American Communications Association's Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking notes in its analysis of communications patterns that in non-verbal communication, "People all over the world use their hands, heads, and bodies to communicate expressively. Nonverbal messages are often the primary means of relating our emotions, our attitudes, and the nature of our relationships with others. Nonverbal messages can express what verbal messages cannot express and are assumed to be more truthful than verbal messages."

In the end, we subscribe to the ACA's conclusion in their report: "Remember, communication always takes place between individuals not cultures, but understanding cultural orientations will always help you become an effective speaker."

Just be sure you know your audience.



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