As our nation’s leaders, academics and comics travel out to deliver commencement addresses, several good ones from this year, and past years, circulate on the internet — something few, if any, graduation speakers predicted in the 1970s would exist by now.
Like millions of others walking the planet, I’ve had to listen to and at times endure, commencement speeches from the high and mighty and occasionally from the smart and funny. But I’ve never delivered one, nor do I ever expect to be asked.
So let me offer a few brief words of advice to the class of 2013, and maybe their parents, siblings and even proud grandparents, about crisis management.
As you sit on the lawn at Ivy U or in the football stadium of State U, where some of your fellow students entertained millions to help pay for your education, crisis is furthest from your mind. As Joss Whedon said in the address linked above, you’re going to die, and everything else is good news after that. That’s how I look at crisis management.
Even if you’ve had a minor bust for weed, a DUI or the death of a close friend or relative, you have not experienced a true crisis. That is because most of these and others like them are personal crises, not public ones.
Here are some warnings and heads up to keep with you as you mix that last garbage pail full of grain alcohol, Hawaiian punch, ice and Red Bull in celebration tonight:
You will experience a public crisis in your career.
It may be tangential to what you did, and you may have had nothing to do with its ignition, but you will feel its burn.
Your world is if not ruled by media and information sharing, heavily influenced by them. They magnify the crisis you will have. They do not play fair; they use rules only they understand. Some of your friends will rally to you, others will act like they never knew you.
Through 17 or so years of formal education, the principles of truth, honor, fairness and sharing were drummed into you. But in a crisis, those are the first helpers your leaders want to excise or forget about. Do not let them.
You will not control the intensity or duration of your crisis, but you can make smart moves to affect both those multipliers. Be patient.
Never lie. Present facts. Answer questions fully and truthfully and see to it that anyone else you can influence does the same.
The degree you earned, the major you learned and the related profession you enter habitually avoid crisis planning. Unless you were a biology major watching cells die, or a history buff studying war and genocide, your major probably never included bad news. In life, it will hunt you down and make you pay for all those years of academic bliss and hookups.
The best way to deal with this certainty is to prepare for it when you are calm, rational and in a good mood. When the crisis hits, you’ll jettison those three helpers right away too, unless you have a crisis plan in place. That plan should have rules to follow that you created and agreed to when the sun shined, it was 75 degrees out and you had nothing better to do.
Finally, as you go out to try to live fulfilled and meaningful lives, understand that the crisis that envelops you, while inevitable, does not make you a bad person or a failure. It’s a rite of passage, just like your graduation and commencement speaker.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.