Last week, Sean Spicer caused a big uproar when he made a statement implying Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons to kill people. He was trying to compare the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons. However, Hitler did use chemical weapons. This immediately led to backlash. Reporters were quick to respond, giving Spicer the opportunity to clarify his statement. But to make matters worse, Spicer did not have a backup to this remark. He fumbled his way through a response before thanking the reporter and moving on. You can watch the exchange below.
This is not the first time a presenter has caused a PR nightmare. But it’s best for presenters to always have a backup response in mind in case they ever slip up as Mr. Spicer did and have their words taken too seriously.
Despite whatever your intention may be, a presenter should always have a plan B, C and D for their presentation. This not only means for any technology issues or location changes, but talking points. It’s a good rule of thumb to put together statements that will cover you if you find yourself upsetting the audience. It’s best to avoid this all together, but we have some way you can temporarily resolve the situation.
This is the most obvious, but always apologize. The most effective PR response is to own up to your mistake. Regardless of your intention or your audience’s misinterpretation, you can stay in front the situation by taking responsibility and sincerely apologizing for any offense taken.
Give yourself a chance to explain your what you meant. But make sure you are fully prepared to do this. Spicer fumbled his way through an explanation without have a clear point of differentiation. This made him sound unprepared and unaware that his statement could cause upset. Instead, right off the top Spicer should have been very clear about the comparison he was trying to make, and should have come up with a response to any backlash because the Holocaust is a sensitive subject for millions of people.
Let’s say that you were honestly unaware about a certain situation. For example, what if Spicer honestly did not know chemical weapons were used in the Holocaust (being purely hypothetical here.) Admitting that you didn’t know a fact about the case you are presenting can be a bit embarrassing but it’s better to admit this than try to recover. Let your audience know that it’s a mistake on your part, but you are willing to be open about it and learn from it. Instead of showing signs of arrogance and refusing to learn why your statement caused an upset, show how much you care about your job, your reputation and your audience by following up and doing your research.
We all have been through uncomfortable experiences where we said things that got taken too far. The best presenters always have their go to talking points to diffuse the situation and temporarily save them from public humiliation. With the internet, it is increasingly harder to not have every misstep broadcasted around the world. That’s why it is more important than ever to always have a backup plan.
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