by GK Strategy 5th June, 2015

Coaster Crisis

Alton Towers boss, Nick Varney, gave a strong performance this afternoon in his interview with the Beeb following a roller coaster crash at the theme park earlier in the week.

Those preparing for potential negative attention, incidents or crises should watch the video and take note – here are just a handful of the principles that contribute to his successful interview:

1. The very first thing he does is clearly displays his sense of responsibility and understanding of the severity of the situation. This is only partly achieved by the actual words he speaks – his tone, volume, pace, and facial expression are key. One oft-quoted piece of research claims that you are judged on a presentation 58% on how you look, 35% on how you sound and only actually 7% on what you say. Whilst many have rightly questioned these exact figures, it is clear that looking and sounding the part is absolutely essential in delivering a convincing media interview.

2. Varney uses clear, powerful messages which he returns to again and again – I picked them out as:
• This is a devastating accident and the first major one in the company’s history
• Our first priority is to support those injured and their families
• We need to find out what has happened and have launched an internal investigation, and are co-operating fully with an external one
• We are taking no risks and have taken additional precautions
• We have extremely stringent safety protocols and have a proven safety record

3. In a situation like this expressing concern, outlining a robust plan of immediate action and providing reassurance are fundamental – all reflected in the above messaging. Leaving any ingredient in this recipe out can be disastrous.

4. He delivers the above without falling into the common trap of appearing defensive – an understandable error.

5. “Down the line” TV interviews are arguably the most difficult of all to handle – as well as the fact that (compared with radio and print) there is absolutely nowhere to hide on TV, interviewees often report a sense of isolation and discomfort which makes it even harder to connect with the audience. Nick Varney isn’t phased – probably because he has prepared and practised and then prepared and practised – and makes a strong emotional connection with the audience.

Crucially, Varney has nothing to hide. As much as we can talk about looking right, sounding right and saying the right thing, the important thing is to do the right thing and have a strong plan in place to put what is wrong as right as possible and not happen again – and preferably a plan that has been prepared before the roller coaster of a crisis situation.

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