Great Sound Bites for Dumb Questions: Lessons in Crisis Communication & Media Training

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Carsten Spohr, head of Lufthansa

By Gerard Braud

The media, especially the 24 hour cable news channels, are asking some really dumb, speculative questions as they cover the tragic crash of Germanwings flight 9525. In media training the trainer should teach the spokesperson to never speculate. Yet many spokespeople don’t always deflect the speculative questions as well as I would like.

Wolf Blitzer of CNN is notorious for speculative questions about the impossible. As news broke that the Germanwings co-pilot may have intentionally crashed the plane, the dumb, speculative questions began from Blitzer and others. A typical dumb, speculative question might be, “How can this happen?” or “Does this mean we need stronger screening?”

A great quotable answer was given by the airline’s CEO, who said, “No matter your safety regulations, no matter how high you set the bar, and we have incredibly high standards, there is no way to rule out such an event.”

CEO Germanwings

CEO Germanwings

This is a near perfect quote. The only fine-tuning I would do would be to remove the phrase, “and we have incredibly high standards.” The reason I’d take it out is because an investigation could uncover flaws or compromises in those standards.

Great lines and great answers to speculative questions are best thought of and written on a clear sunny day, long before you need them.

The best way to approach this is to make a list of the most common speculative questions, then formulate answers that say a lot in essence, but offer no real details. And by all means, the statement must be a great quote.

This technique has been at the heart of my writing retreats and the large library of pre-written news releases I use in my crisis communications plans. Just give me a call if you have specific questions.

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