Bonus Online Article: Building a Bridge to Credibility

August 12, 2016

[robert kneschke/shutterstock]
[robert kneschke/shutterstock]

In the aftermath of a crisis, public officials, executives or other spokespeople will often release a statement on behalf of their organization that says “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.”

While the sentiment may be sincere, the phrase has become overused and ultimately meaningless.

The media and the public expect a company or organization to recognize a tragedy and offer a sympathetic response. However, to be effective, organizations must replace these statements with phrases that are relevant during a crisis.

To achieve this, we recommend you channel your inner Aristotle in order to build a confident credibility bridge with your audiences. The ancient Greeks believed that every citizen should study public speaking and have the ability to motivate audiences. Aristotle outlined three concepts:

  • Ethos: How we earn the respect of our listeners. Your character and reputation are critical for the audience to answer the following questions: Who are you? What are your values and beliefs? Why should I trust you? What qualifies you to speak on this subject? What are your experiences? Will you share your pain? What added value do you bring to the platform? Answer these questions in a manner that is sensitive to their needs, understanding of their concerns, shows eagerness to help them and is responsive to their demands.
  • Logos: How we support our message with solid facts; reasoning that's logical, rational, persuasive and defensible to the argument for what happened and what will be done to fix the problem. 
  • Pathos: How we appeal to our audience’s emotions and persuade them of our argument; passion and emotion for an organization or person. Show empathy and sympathy. You cannot fake it; it must be genuine! You must become a true spokesperson who is open, candid, involved in policy making, ethical, responsible and approachable.

Aligning messages

Your crisis-message strategy must make your audiences believe that you are attached to them, and that your message is their message. Your actions must prove that you are committed to them.

A recommended message might say: “I have just met with the families of our employees who were killed and would urge all of you to pray for them and their loved ones.” In this way, you can truly attach yourself to your audiences because you have seen them, and they have seen you. You show you are a true witness to their pain and grief. Therefore, your words and actions become one with the victims’ families when you express their grief with true substance and content.

Here are some more steps to take to become an even more effective spokesperson:

  • Be accessible. Your CEO and executives, key stakeholders and the media must have access to you
  • Speak honestly. Always tell the truth
  • Show humility. You are a servant leader to your leaders and audiences
  • Be accountable. To both your organization and audiences
  • Stay in control. Always do so, regardless of what happens
  • Remain competent. Stay in your lane, only talk about what you own or know and never reach to speak about things you do not know about
  • Express concern. It must be on your face and in your actions and words
  • Use the right information. As well as the right people, at the right time
  • Be passionate. For your profession, organization and audiences
  • Display communication skills. Outstanding oral, written, listening and non-verbal communication skills are committed to compassion, empathy and accuracy

Joseph V. Trahan III, Ph.D, APR, Fellow PRSA, has more than 35 years of public relations/affairs experience in government, association, education and nonprofit public relations. He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve.

Joseph V. Trahan IV is a media relations and corporate relations coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys where he has spent the past nine seasons. He also serves as a press contact for AT&T Stadium.


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