This course enables professionals who have in-depth knowledge of their field or industry to address a crisis with a confident and trustworthy response, preserving their reputation … and their organization's.

News Conference

A crisis can happen to you. And as much as we don’t care to think about that, there is no substitute for solid preparation.


This course benefits anyone in your organization charged with responding to a crisis. That includes all members of a well-tuned response team, not just the CEO, who is often the face of an organization in a crisis. It includes all members of your executive team, as well as your board members. It includes response team professionals from communications, government relations and legal departments, as well as subject matter experts – engineers, technicians, economists, business leaders, academics or others who may respond on your organization’s behalf. In short, this course provides solid preparation for everyone interacting with key external audiences in a crisis.

Team Photo

Together, we have about a century’s worth of experience in communications… and more to the point, in crisis communications. That includes managing crises within organizations, training emergency spokespeople and building crucial response capabilities.

Our background in communications and crisis management uniquely qualifies us to do this training. We were integral to the successful management of the nuclear industry’s response to the Three Mile Island and Fukushima nuclear plant accidents. We helped the aluminum industry successfully navigate a major crisis when they were threatened by a false link between aluminum products and Alzheimer’s disease. With zero notice, we were brought in for strategic advice when a company was caught up in the tragic death of dogs and cats from imported protein from China, and we have worked for trade associations dealing with internal crises.

Walter Hill

Carina May

Rick Morris

A crisis can happen to any organization, any time.
It can even
happen to you. Are you ready?

Practicing in front of the camera
Media Interview

This Virtual Crisis Communications Course includes six learning modules. It allows participants to complete all six modules whenever and wherever they please. These include video, presentations, downloadable tools, reading assignments and self-directed skill-building exercises.

In this course you will experience interactive online learning as you hone your skills as a communicator.

Learning Modules

6 Learning Modules

Downloadable Tools & Exercises

Reading Guides

Reading Guides

Community Forum

Community Forum

Module 1(Introduction): Why Is Crisis Communications So Important?

This module introduces you to the course and your instructors. How an organization prepares for a crisis makes all the difference, and the real work happens well before you have any sign of a crisis. Anticipation, planning, defining key roles, practice, and continual review – these are all elements that make for a credible, competent response that builds confidence in your organization. This module explains why the communication skills you normally use in your professional life may not work when you are under attack. We will also share our relevant crisis communication experience, which includes everything from responses to nuclear power plant accidents to poisoned dog food.


  • What your instructors have learned about crisis communications and how it is relevant to you
  • How organizations can build or strengthen a crisis response plan, while at the same time inculcating the skills your spokespeople need to address the public and the media
  • Why effective crisis communicators must apply skills beyond those needed for your day-to-day job


  • Self-Reflection Exercise
  • Effective Communications Guide
  • Self-Directed Skill Building Exercise
Self Reflection Exercise

Module 2: Who Are You Going to Believe?

Why is crisis communications difficult? And why is it different? This module will address those essential questions. It reviews new skills successful communicators must learn that draw on decades of research about how best to communicate in scenarios where fear dominates and simple reliance on factual information is insufficient.


  • What the research tells us about how great communicators succeed in establishing credibility in a crisis, and what factors set others up for failure
  • How to draw on those qualities you possess, but seldom use, to be credible in your day-to-day professional world
  • How to identify more closely with your audience when its stress level is high
  • Recognize how negative information amplified in a crisis distorts perception, and reviewing key elements to counter negativity
  • Learn the guiding principles every crisis communicator needs to know


  • What You Have to Do to Be Believed Guide
  • Video Assignment and Analysis Exercise

Module 3: Telling Your Story: A Deeper Dive Into Techniques That Work

Module 3 delves deeply into those techniques a crisis communicator must apply. It reviews the power of perception and how this is a principal factor affecting whether your audience will trust you.


  • Factors you will need to review about how to gauge an audience and their degree of confidence in you and your organization
  • How people determine whether you are telling the truth and elements that will skew your audience’s judgment
  • How to stay on message and the techniques you will use to do that
  • Vital nonverbal factors in crisis communication and why they are different from those applied in day-to-day situations where your audience and colleagues already have a high degree of confidence in you
  • Traps that plague every crisis communicator and that can be their undoing … and what to do to avoid them


  • Self-Directed Skill Building Exercise
Assignment Formulate and Initial Response

Module 4: How to Stay Calm … When You’d Rather Get Hit by a Truck Than Speak Before an Audience

Remaining calm and collected in a crisis is hard enough. Even standing before an audience that has a high degree of confidence in you can itself be terrifying.  In fact, if public speaking doesn’t terrify you, you’re one of the lucky ones. According to one survey, most people said that they’d rather be hit by a bus than speak in front of a live audience. In this module we’ll review techniques you can use to help stay composed and poised. We’ll also practice exercises designed to help calm your nerves and reduce anxiety.


  • Review what it takes to build a positive connection with your audience
  • Appearance matters! We’ll review how to dress for different situations.
  • Review and practice gestures and body language that have been proven to convey certain unspoken messages
  • Listen to your own voice; practice tone, volume, pitch, and inflection
  • Learn techniques to help induce a sense of calm prior to conducting live interviews; learn how to maintain presence during the interview
  • Your communication approach will depend on the existing level of audience trust; learn adjust to your style/message based on the situation
  • Basic communication techniques: Six Keys to Success


  • Guide for Making a Great Presentation
  • Effective Communications Checklist
  • Messaging and Soundbite Exercise
Guide for Making a Great Presentation
Soundbite Exercise

Module 5: Today’s Complex Media Landscape

Consider what’s changed in the past couple decades. How do people get their news? The Internet has taken traditional forms of media by storm. Television, radio and print once ruled. No longer. We now have access to an infinite number of channels, and communication happens in real time. That means spokespeople must master far more than the traditional channels; it’s also critical to know how to navigate online avenues and social media.


  • Understand how the media landscape evolved
  • Develop strategies to quickly respond in the age of real-time communication
  • Master techniques for different social media channels
  • Learn media interview techniques and the 11 keys to success
  • Review TV and radio interview techniques, news conference tips and bridging techniques
  • Learn about resources available to gauge public sentiment


  • Six Elements for Acing the Soundbite
  • Twitter Assignment
Social Media

Module 6: The Crisis is Here… Are You Ready?

You are now in the thick of a crisis. Do you have the protocols in place to navigate the situation and stay on message? This module focuses on how you put into action what you have learned and what you have been preparing for. We will review critical first steps that need to be done right to contain a situation and avoid the escalation of mistrust and frustration that can damage your organization’s reputation.


  • Activating established team protocols
  • Refining messages and making them timely
  • Structuring the initial response
  • Managing social media
  • Knowing when and how to engage with the media
  • Keeping employees informed
  • Ensuring you and your organization gets prepared … and stays prepared


  • Risk Communication Principles: Powerful Tools When You Prepare, and Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Self-Directed Skill Building Exercise
  • Organizational Assessment
News Conference

Are you ready to become more confident and prepared for a crisis?

Taking this course will help you capitalize on your current strengths while building new skills necessary to respond confidently when the time comes.

©2022 Smith & Harroff, Inc.



1729 King Street, Suite 310

Alexandria, VA 22314