I thought I would be cute this Valentine’s Day and make flowers for my wife. I consulted an origami handbook, watched several origami videos and attempted to make origami roses for her out of red construction paper.
I made about a dozen flowers in total but offered about half that amount to my wife in a paper bouquet I created. The remainder were turned into shredded filler. Their lives were not spent in wasted effort, however; from the exercise I learned some valuable lessons that relate well to the practice of crisis communications.
Having a plan to turn to can make all the difference
First, I learned that it helps to have a plan. If I had gone about the business of building a paper flower without something to reference, it likely would have been an hour wasted before I settled on a visit to the local florist. Having someone else show and explain to me how to make the flower at least gave me a fighting chance. The flowers weren’t perfect, but at least they looked like flowers and got the job done.
A crisis communications plan is much like the origami instruction I received. It gives the organization something to reference when needed. And, much like the booklet I consulted, it has various sections for various possibilities. Not only can I make a flower, I can also craft a crane, frog and even a praying mantis.
Practice makes perfect
Second, I learned that practice makes perfect. My first attempts at building an origami flower were rough. Very rough. As I worked through the steps over and over, however, I began to develop a rudimentary understanding of origami’s basic principles. (Quick, ask me to explain a squash fold.)
Having a crisis communications plan on the shelf and not practicing it will leave your organization in the unenviable position of not being prepared if you have to put it to use in a crisis situation.
Your team will probably end up building rough origami flowers — the kind you’d be reluctant to present to your best gal. But giving that planning life every once in a while with a tabletop exercise or as part of a crisis simulation will help your team develop nimble fingers and put a crisp edge and sharp look to your creation.
Missteps can put a bad crease in your messaging
Third, it’s important to do the job right the first time. Several times while creating flowers, I’d get a good start and then realize I had missed a step somewhere along the way. No problem, I figured; I would just unfold the paper and start over. But that proved to be problematic. The inaccurate and misplaced creases I had created made the paper tough to rework into the shape I wanted it to take.
Going off half-cocked with a message at the beginning of a crisis situation — and putting the wrong creases in your paper — makes it tough to rework the communication later. What you say at the beginning of a crisis situation is the image the media — and your stakeholders — will remember. The lesson here is to be careful in your preparation and stick to the plan. Missing steps and the wrong creases into your presentation are difficult to overcome.
A little expert help never hurts
Finally, I learned there’s no substitute for having a pair of experienced nimble fingers in charge of the program. Despite all the self-instruction I undertook, my flowers were not quite the masterpieces that blossomed in the booklet I referenced and on the Internet videos I watched. My wife liked them, of course — I think it was the thought that counted — probably because they were cute, each one a unique, crippled creation.
Your organization is not going to find such affection among media and stakeholders should you exercise your crisis communication plan and deliver your own version of a unique, crippled creation. Rather, you’ll find yourself out of a job and your organization attempting to survive the embarrassment.
Just like having a master instructor in the room to personally teach me how to build an origami rose — guiding my fingers and gently correcting my mistakes — so too can an experienced crisis communication professional provide your organization with the guidance and support it needs to craft a complete plan, work beside your team to perfect it through training, and stand beside you when the test comes and you must deliver under pressure.
Preparation, practice and proficiency: three keys to building the perfect paper rose — and a credible, competent crisis communication plan.