What? So what? Now what?

October 14, 2014

What do you say in a crisis situation?  How do you tell an exciting story?  What do you want people to do?

These and other questions shaped the conversation about effective communications and crisis communications on a Monday afternoon at the Conference Center.  Diane Degnan, Director of Public Information for The United Methodist Church led the coaching session for District Ministry Teams and other key leaders of the Iowa Conference.

Degnan, a member of the United Methodist Communications team for nine years, has been involved in over 20,000 interviews helping the Church to tell its story, both the difference that the denomination is making locally and globally and presenting the United Methodist message during times of crisis and conflict.

More than forty participated in the first day of the three-day experience.  The group was given an understanding of what makes news, becoming more aware of what reporters want, learning how how reporters will find church spokespersons, and being succinct – there’s often just six seconds, or 26 words to get the story across.

Participants were coached on the interview experience, eliminating negative language, interviewing the interviewer, and considering the audience.  Answers need to be clear and concise, utilizing positive language, including compelling stories and examples that are more than the simple facts.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s important to offering memorable responses.

Beyond listening to Diane Degnan, participants were given the opportunity to select a topic or issue that they faced and in an exercise offer a response that included three messages and a quotable “sound bite.”  Several, including Bishop Trimble, learned together how to answer, effectively, in an interview situation.

Different news media interviews require awareness of the format.  Eye contact, posture, and brevity are important for television.  Clarity, even using notes, is the key for radio.  Substantiating documentation and message summary is  important in a newspaper interview.  Tone is important in an email.

Difficult situations require a command of the facts.  Taking concerns seriously and respecting confidentiality is also important and if a reporter presses, even to the point of badgering, requires self-control and positive language.

Over the three days of the coaching experience the participants, which include camp directors, Leadership Development Ministers, and support staff will have the opportunity to have an on-camera experience in addition to the coaching sessions…and will be better prepared to help to tell the stories of the faithful ministries of the communities of the Iowa Conference, offering a positive message in all circumstances.

The effective and crisis communications training is being offered by the Iowa Conference’s Communications Ministry Team in collaboration with United Methodist Communications.