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Media Training

10 Tips to Handle Difficult Questions During Your Presentation

Working with CEOs and other leaders preparing for their presentations, I find that one of their greatest concerns is how to handle questions that might arise during or at the conclusion of their presentations.

This was confirmed for me when I was interviewed recently by Inc. Magazine for an article on how to effectively answer questions.

You can read the article here: 7 Surefire Tips to Ace You Next Q & A.

To supplement this I wanted to give you a deeper perspective including 10 quick tips on answering difficult questions.

Why do you think we are all so unnerved by the prospect of answering questions?

I believe there are many reasons for this fear, including:

Fear of the unknown: Virtually any question might be asked and we will be on the spot in a high-pressure situation.

Lack of preparation: Most people don’t actually prepare, or know how to prepare effectively for questions.

No real confidence in our positions, our answers or our ability to respond.

Over-imagining the difficulty of questions and assuming our questioners will be antagonistic.

Fear of failure: What if I can’t answer the question? Will I be embarrassed, ridiculed, rejected? Fired?

It may seem as if I’m being extreme with these reasons, but believe me, I am not. From my intimate work with leaders, all of these may underlie our feelings of exposure. You may have felt some yourself; I know I have.

Early in my career, I became a media spokesperson and found myself doing live interviews on local and national television or talking to crowds of reporters about controversial subjects. I would also speak at public meetings with sometimes-hostile crowds.

Those experiences taught me what I teach others today in media training and speech coaching: To handle questions effectively, you must be prepared, listen carefully, be present inthe moment, and answer with confidence.

Here are some tips to help you when questions put you on the spot:

1) Do not attack the questioner
During an earnings call on May 3, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked a question on capital expenditures from a financial analyst. It is a relevant topic for a company that has yet to make a profit. Nonetheless, Musk responded, "Excuse me. Next. Boring, bonehead questions are not cool. Next?"

Though he apologized in a later call, Musk showed the damage that can be done when we attack the questioner to avoid answering legitimate questions. Do your best to avoid picking on your questioners.

2) Prepare and rehearse
As I have written before, the best way to deal with any communication situation is to prepare as much as possible in advance. You can't anticipate every question that will come at you, but you can prepare for most of them. You can also be ready in a generic way for almost every type of question that will come your way.

3) Develop go-to messages
You should have an overriding theme –– the one thing you want people to remember about your presentation. I also recommend having three key points that will serve as your go-to messages.

For instance, if you’re doing a status update on a project, your theme might be, “Our product introduction is on target.” You support that theme with three main messages, such as “we are on budget, on schedule and initial sales are on plan.” 

4) Pivot to your messages 
Whenever you’re asked a question, you should pivot back to your key messages that support your theme. It might feel odd repeating these messages, but it’s necessary, given peoples’ limited attention spans today. It will feel like repetition to you, but you’re really reinforcing your main theme.
Just don’t use exactly the same words as you say these messages: change it up by saying things a different way. Use different data, examples or stories to make your points. People won’t think of you as repeating yourself, they’ll think of you as someone who is clear on what you’re trying to communicate.
5) Make a written list
I was trained in journalism in college and will share this formula reporters use to write news stories: In the first paragraph journalists are supposed to include the who, what, where, when, why and how, so that people get all the information they need up front. You can use the same approach to develop your list of questions.

Take your topic and write every related question you can think of that might come up. For instance, if you are presenting to management about your product introduction, then consider questions like:

What is the most important potential obstacle to success?

When will we see results from this new product?

Who is responsible for any delay in this product?
6) Add the toughest question 
When you’re done writing your list of questions, there’s one more you need to add. I tell people to add the question that you don’t want to be asked.budget

All of us have a question that is the absolute toughest in our minds. It’s important to write that question down and also write down your best answer to get it out of your head and onto paper.
If you don’t write it down, it will be swimming in your subconscious during your presentation. You may just be thinking, “don’t ask that question, please don’t ask that question.” When the question is asked, your mind might go blank.
But if you’ve written down your answer—the best possible answer—you’ll feel more confident and ready to answer the toughest question.
7) Don’t get defensive
It’s important not to let people hit your emotional triggers when you’re answering questions. If that happens during a session and you get defensive, you lose. Maintain your confidence by maintaining your composure.
8) Don’t dwell on a negative questioner
When someone in a crowd, such as in a meeting, essentially heckles you by posing negative questions, it’s important not to let them steal the show. In other words, it’s okay to answer a question or two from that person, each time going to your key messages, but then move on. Turn your gaze and your head to someone else, another questioner, as soon as possible.
9) Don’t end your presentation on a negative question
Be sure to end your presentation on a positive note. You may have several negative questions in a row, but when you get to a positive question and you feel like things are wrapping up, it’s time to end your talk.
I recommend having two “closes” or final remarks for your talk. What I mean is, that first you summarize then open it up for questions and answers.

When the questions are over, hopefully ending on a positive question, again summarize with your theme and some of your key messages or call to action (your second “close”) so that people walk away with what you want them to remember.

10) Don’t Wait
The worst thing that people do is wait until the question is asked and then try to think of the answer -- under pressure -- and then smoothly give the answer.

That’s a really difficult feat to accomplish. It’s no wonder that we feel anxiety when we’re not ready to answer. Questions only become “tough” if you aren’t prepared for them, or if you’ve inflated them out of proportion in your mind.

In other words, even “tough” questions can be handled with confidence and grace, if you have the right mindset and are prepared to address the questions.

There is both an art and science to answering live questions. Be patient with yourself. Like any other skill, answering questions takes focus, deliberate practice and repetition.

I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page to send me a message, and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.

How to Stay Calm Under Stress

Getting angry doesn’t solve anything. – Grace Kelly

All of us have issues, concerns or people who push our buttons. Especially people.

They create an emotional response that can send us over the edge. We might respond with anger, defensiveness, disgust or hurt.

These are normal human reactions, but when you're giving a presentation or doing a media interview – something where your reactions are on display – it's important to control your response.

That's why with my clients I'll spend time with this simple concept: Don't react when people try to push your buttons.

It's much easier said than done, of course.

Here's an example: You and your team are presenting a project plan internally, and one of your rivals brings up a negative that’s related to the project. The remark might be trivial or major, but just the guy’s attitude and tone can set you off.

Naturally, this could make you angry and defensive. Your emotional instinct would be to attack that person and his credibility. Or to try to defend yourself with a long explanation. Don't do it. If you do that, you lose.

Here are some tips on taking control of your emotional responses to situations:

Cover your buttons
When I’m coaching or training on this subject, I touch the middle of my chest and say "these are your buttons, let's cover them up." I would have you imagine before your presentation that you are putting on a flak jacket that has a shield over your chest, covering your emotional triggers – your buttons. This way they are covered, and no one can touch them.
Choose to respond calmly
We often say, “he makes me so mad!” as if a person has the power to control our emotional responses. The truth is, we can’t control what people do and say. But we can control our responses. You can choose to calm yourself and respond in a way that will produce positive results for you and others.
Pause and reflect
Take a mental break. Press “pause” in your mind and deliberately breathe. Your mother told you to count to 10 as a child; she was right on target. Even a brief break and several deep breaths can clear your mind and restore your equilibrium under pressure.
Don’t burn bridges
When we feel threatened, we’ll often react in a big way, with threats or attacks that undermine our relationships. You need to realize that burning bridges – killing our relationships – cuts off all possibility of future success. I’ve learned over years that people you think of as enemies sometimes turn into your greatest allies. Keep the bridge intact.
Think of gratitude
When you turn your focus to gratitude, you will find that your anger, jealousy or other negative emotion, slips away. That’s because if you are truly focused on gratitude, it’s impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Thankfully, we cannot hold these two feelings at the same time.
Assume the best
We make many assumptions in life, and lots of them turn out to be wrong. Based on our emotions we’ll take the smallest slight and jump to the wrong conclusion. Until you have blatant solid evidence that someone has wronged you, try assuming the best.
Understand your triggers
It’s worth taking the time to identify and understand your buttons. What are those triggers, those slights, that set you off?
I have more than one client who had a difficult childhood, too often feeling humiliated as kids. They understand that they tend to overreact when they think someone is disrespecting them. With awareness and practice, they’re learning to control their emotional responses.
Think of something funny
Depending on the situation, this is one of my favorite mental tricks to stay calm: I’ll deliberately think of something funny. If I become angry at a person for a hostile remark, I might picture the attacker as a squeaky little dog with a high-pitched bark. It just keeps yapping, “Yap! Yap! Yap!” Then I smile inside, take a deep breath and follow some of the other advice I’ve been sharing.
Take the high road
Take the high road and briefly respond in a way that minimizes the issue. Then move on. Dismiss it from your mind.

Button-pushing happens all the time in media interviews, where it is a reporter's job to make you uncomfortable enough that you give a response that will be different and interesting for readers or viewers.

So, it's critical that you don't over-respond to a comment. You can't control what people will say, but you can control your response.

Whether it’s a reporter, a presentation heckler or the office flame-thrower, use these techniques to help control your response.

Just stay calm. Be in the moment. Breathe. Then move on in your communication.  By the way, this works well in your communications at home, as well. Give it a try!

What are your emotional triggers?

What sets you off?

How do you respond to perceived attacks or ridicule in public settings? 

Photo by Marcos Luiz on Unsplash

How to Give Better Presentations

One of the first things I say, when leading my communications workshops, is “stop giving presentations.”
That might seem like an odd statement coming from someone who makes a living speaking and helping others speak more effectively.
But what I also tell them is that we should replace “presentations” with “conversations.” It’s as much a mindset shift as a change in how you prepare and engage people important to you.
After all, we’ve all experienced – either as the deliverer or the recipient – what happens when we go into presentation mode.
I saw this first hand a couple of years ago. We were at a beautiful resort in the American Southwest. The audience was in a great mood. They were leaders who had achieved awesome results the previous year and were being treated well in a sunny location with golf and spa treatments.

What’s not to like? Now there was some anticipation as they waited for the CEO to speak.

People were super engaged
I was sitting at the back of a large hall, filled with a dazzling stage, bright lights and music. I was hired to observe and give feedback. The CEO started to speak. He was smiling, charming and spontaneous. He used the names of people in the crowd and joked with them.  People were laughing and super engaged.
Then, he cleared his throat, “Ahem” and said, “Okay, let’s get started.”  He looked down at his speech on the floor monitors. Up came the PowerPoint slides. He began to read the words from the stage. It almost seemed like the first time he had read those words.
Up came the smartphones
I watched as people at the back of the room who a moment before were laughing and watching their leader suddenly turned to their smartphones. They had something better to do. Others crossed their arms on their chests, girding themselves for a long haul. 
This happens everywhere. You’ve probably seen it. It’s a fact of life. We’ve all been on the delivery side, too: spewing information at people with little regard for their needs or interests.

Presentation mode
This is not good for you or your audience. It makes us nervous because we move from having a conversation to PRESENTATION MODE. Now I'm giving a speech, we say to ourselves – and to our audience.
I'm not saying don’t give presentations. I’m saying don’t live in presentation mode.
In presentation mode, we think people are judging us: our knowledge, our appearance, our eloquence. What they really want is to interact with you. Have a conversation with a normal human being – an authentic person. 

Have a conversation 
The answer is to start thinking about your meetings and talks as conversations. A conversation will also make you feel more confident. When you put it through that lens, you’ll raise your awareness and see it from your audience’s point of view.
Here are a few tips to help you next time you face an audience and want to create a conversation:
See it from their perspective
Too often we think about what we want to deliver to people. What do we want to present to them? Instead, we should focus what they need to receive from us. What are their needs? Their pain points? How can you help them? As you know, all of us are always focused on “what does this mean for me”? When addressing that question you starting to have a conversation.
They’re not an audience, they’re people
We also get lost in presentation mode because we think of people we are presenting too as an audience. We see that mass of people, whether 1,000 in an auditorium or 10 in a conference room, and believe we have to push our material out to them.
Even if you’re speaking to people who have the same common interests, the same values, the same physical appearance, they are all individuals with different needs and perspectives.
Start with a story
Stories, especially your own, are the most powerful tool you have to engage people, opening their hearts and minds to your message.
Ask them questions
When you ask questions, you have my attention. I have to think about whether you were addressing me personally; whether I know the answer; and whether I should consider answering. You’ve made me part of the conversation.
Create bullet points
You can write out your entire presentation as a script if it makes you think more clearly and feel more comfortable. But for your talk, I recommend you boil it all down to bullet points.

You may have the fear that you'll forget some detail. That doesn't matter. You know this stuff and when you’re having a conversation, it doesn't have to be perfect. It has to be real.
Rehearse in conversation with people
Take your bullet points, hopefully written on a single page or on index cards, and talk them through the points you want to make. Think about sitting around a meal and explaining these ideas. You're looking for engagement and interaction. You’re just having a conversation.
Bonus tip: Have someone video record you on your phone, standing up presenting vs. just talking conversationally. Then consider: If you were in the audience, which one would you rather hear?
Be easy on yourself. Like any skill, it takes time and deliberate practice to develop expertise.
Here’s to having fewer presentations in the world, and more conversations. Enjoy your next talk.

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Goodbye 'Friendly' Skies: United Airlines CEO's Critical Mistake

Rules of Customer Service
Rule # 1: The Customer is Always Right
Rule # 2: If the Customer is Wrong, Refer to Rule # 1
I was traveling on business last weekend and only saw the United Airlines passenger video in passing on an airport TV monitor.
On Tuesday morning, a long-time friend and Sunday Coffee reader texted me:
Bob: Hope you’ll be writing about UAL on Sunday.
Me: Ha! That story writes itself. Wow, what were they thinking? That would be perfect (for Sunday Coffee) but I’m not doing the reputation stuff now. Hope you’re well.
Bob: It’s a story about leadership communication. Did you hear the CEO? C’mon John!
Me: [Long pause] I know. You’re right…
At that point, I hadn’t directly heard the CEO, but I had heard Jimmy Kimmel make fun of his statement.
Though I’ve handled more than my share of crises for Fortune 100 companies in my career, I’m not going to pile on about poor crisis management.
In a crisis, we talk about the need for immediate action, emphasizing safety and security, transparency and constant communication. But the most relevant factor that applies to the United Airlines debacle is customer empathy.
Extreme Empathy
I just want to make one point for those of you who might be called on to communicate in adversity: in a crisis situation, it’s critical to express what I call “extreme empathy” for people – customers, employees, donors, investors and others.
That means it is not possible for you to be too empathetic in expressing your concern for people who have gone through a traumatic situation. The reason for this is that everyone is watching this mistreatment and wondering if the same might happen to them.
This applies in whatever business, industry or organization you represent. When people have been wronged you need to quickly, sincerely and fully express your empathy for them, no matter the circumstances.
Corporate Speak
Without covering the landscape of other errors, a lack of empathy was the primary mistake of United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. In a statement released Monday night, Munoz was quoted as saying:
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
This is the worst kind of corporate speak. The primary issue is that a passenger was forcibly dragged from a plane and bloodied by airport security officers, resulting in a concussion, broken nose and lost teeth.  In the horrific video, you can hear a woman repeatedly screaming “Oh my God!” conveying the raw emotion humans feel in primal moments.
Yet the statement apologizes for having to “re-accommodate” passengers! That’s why Jimmy Kimmel and others had a field day with this statement, hoping they wouldn’t be “re-accommodated.” The statement ignores the stark, brutal reality of this incident.
The public backlash was immediate from all stakeholders, including investors who drove down UAL stock. By Tuesday, Munoz attempted to recover by expressing the missing empathy.
Munoz said: “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened,” Munoz said Tuesday, in marked contrast to his Monday statement.
“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated in this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.”
But it was too late. The damage was done.
Corporate Culture
I won’t go into detail here, but I believe the larger problem lies with United’s flawed culture, which is not customer-focused. Emerging from bankruptcy and merging with Continental Airlines years ago has left the company with a profit-focused culture.
That’s why they have some seven levels of passenger classes on their planes, including the recently announced “economy” where you’re not pre-assigned a seat and can’t use the overhead bins for your luggage, or some such humiliation.

This is the culture that allowed employees to call security to forcibly drag a passenger from the plane to make room for other employees.
Contrast that with the culture of Southwest Airlines, my airline of choice unless I have an international destination. I cannot even conceive of a circumstance in which a Southwest employee would consider calling to have a passenger forcibly removed from a plane, other than for being violent or doing something illegal.
More likely, if it ever got to the point of a passenger refusing to leave the plane, I would imagine a flight attendant standing next to him and saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, this passenger is a doctor who is trying to get home to treat his patients in the morning. Would any of you be willing to give up your seat so he can travel tonight?”
I believe other passengers would stand up without even being offered a larger incentive because they know Southwest has its customers’ interests at heart and will do the right thing in most any situation. That’s an expression of the company culture with employees making good on a brand promise.
The larger lesson is clear for leaders facing an adverse event internally or externally: express extreme empathy for those who have been hurt.
If you don’t agree with this, please refer to customer rules # 1 and # 2 above.
What do you think? You can tell me your stories, thoughts or ideas by commenting below.

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Top 10 PR & Media Relations Disasters of 2014

Top 10 PR & Media Relations Disasters

Every year I think it can’t get any worse (or better, since we’re compiling a list of media disasters) and yet celebrities and others continue to contribute to the pool of bad actions, poor judgment and misappropriate messaging. With that said, these are our Top 10 PR and Media Relations Disasters of 2014. They are not listed in order of severity.


1. President Obama: “We Tortured Some Folks”


In explaining his strategy to defeat ISIS, President Obama used the word “folks" in reference to the group that cut a path of terror through the Middle East. The word “folks” is a friendly, familiar term, not appropriate for all situations–like describing war, death and destruction.

Obama has a long history of inappropriate use of the word. At his press conference in August, Obama got a social media mocking for this line: “(After 9/11) We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.” In the same press conference, according to the Wall Street Journal, Obama used “folks” eleven times–in reference to everything from potential Ebola victims to the Border Patrol to the CIA.

Obama Speaking



2. New York Police Department: Not that Photo!


It was a different time for the NYPD back in April. That’s when the department asked citizens to Tweet photos like the one below of people interacting with officers in a friendly way. The hashtag for Twitter was #MyNYPD.

Unfortunately, the campaign immediately backfired when protestors and others began tagging photos of violent arrests by the NYPD, with sarcastic captions. File this under “watch what you ask for” as public companies have also discovered their friendly social media attempts are hijacked by others.

#mynypd#MyNYPD Protest









3. Rolling Stone's Bad Reporting: Don't Blame the Victim


When faced with a crisis, media themselves often give the worst responses. Rolling Stone wrote an article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Based on interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.”

The article resulted in the University banning all Greek activities on the campus for at least a year. When questions were raised about details in the story, Rolling Stone first dismissed the doubters, then said its “trust” in Jackie had been misplaced. After a firestorm of outrage for blaming the victim, Rolling Stone took responsibility for poor reporting, including not verifying the facts or interviewing the alleged assailants.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 10.29.44 AM


4. West Virginia Chemical Spill: Put Down that Bottle


CEO Gary Southern appeared at a press conference in January to answer questions about his recently sold company’s contamination of a West Virginia town’s water supply, which left 300,000 without drinking water. One way Southern angered people, as seen in the video below, was by frequently sipping from a water bottle while hundreds of thousands of people were struggling to find their own water to drink.

In the video, Southern repeatedly tries to leave the press conference, saying he’s had a “long day.” This infuriates the media and bystanders who keep pressing him with questions until he walks away.

Under his leadership, the company allegedly let the chemical storage deteriorate with lack of maintenance, until it caused the spill. Southern was recently arrested by the FBI on charges of bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud and lying under oath and if convicted could face up to 30 years in prison. One lesson here is watch out for symbols, such as the water bottle, which seems to mock peoples’ troubles finding drinking water.



5. National Football League: Goodell’s Repeated Mis-steps


The NFL seemed to lack a serious crisis communications response plan. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, solely vested with the authority to judge, punish and review appeals of player behavior, made numerous PR and media mistakes in 2014. Most prominent were his responses to the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson abuse scandals.

Goodell originally suspended Rice for two games until an infamous elevator video of Rice punching his then-finance was made public by TMZ. The result has been a late-year announcement of new policies, the hiring of higher-ranking women on his staff and a reduction of Goodell’s authority as the sole arbiter of player misconduct.

roger goodell ray rice

6. Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers Screws Up Apology


Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on a secret audio tape recording making racist remarks about African-Americans in general and naming Magic Johnson specifically.

In this interview with CNN, Sterling starts out with an apology and quickly devolves into an extended attack on Magic Johnson for, to paraphrase, sleeping with women across the country while he had AIDS and not really helping the minority community. Sterling was banned from basketball by the NBA and forced to sell the team against his will.



7. Ferguson Police Shooting Controversy


Michael Brown in August was shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. Leaving Brown’s body lying in the street for several hours and responding to protestors with military vehicles and weapons was only the start of how Ferguson became a negative national symbol and focal point of protest.

A Grand Jury has since declined to prosecute the officer, who resigned from the department. Recently, a Ferguson officer was placed on unpaid leave for calling the street memorial to Brown “trash.” Police Chief Thomas Jackson released this video apologizing to the Brown family and expressing his interest in engaging in a broader national conversation on the issues.



8. Congressman Michael Grimm Threatens Reporter


In January, Rep. Michael Grimm made international news when, on the night of President Obama’s State of the Union address, he threatened a New York TV reporter asking about an unrelated campaign finance controversy.

“I’ll throw you off this f---ing balcony,” Grimm told NY1’s Mike Scotto. “You’re not man enough — you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.” Watch the video below.

Unrelated to the incident, Grimm this week pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges in federal court.



9. Uber Threatens to Expose Personal Lives of Journalists


Emil Michael, a senior executive with the highly successful ride-sharing service Uber, had dinner with journalists. He and his PR team apparently thought his comments were “off the record,” but that was never communicated to one of the writers at the table. In media training, I tell executives to consider every conversation on the record. What you say, can and will be used.

In Uber’s case, Emil went on to suggest that his company would fight back against journalists who had written unflattering stories about the company. His plan would be to spend millions of dollars on a team to dig into the personal lives of writers and expose them. In particular, Michael cited one particular journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, who had accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” You can read her personal account of being threatened.

Despite calls to fire Michael, he remains employed by Uber. Uber’s CEO apologized for Michael’s comments in a series of disjointed Tweets that reeked of insincerity. You can watch a short video from Fast Company that mocks the individual Tweets by "testing" the messages with colleagues. Very funny.

Emil Michael's Twitter Photo



10. Bill Cosby Attacks Reporter’s Integrity


As of today, Bill Cosby faces allegations of drugging and rape from some 27 women. Cosby’s media strategy has been to have his attorney attack the women’s credibility and his PR firm criticizes the media for reporting the allegations.

Meanwhile, Cosby remains silent, except for this video in which he tries to intimidate by questioning a young reporter’s integrity for even daring to ask about the charges.   In this video, Cosby forgets the number one rule of media training: the camera is always on.



What's your opinion? We made hard choices with the Top 10. Do you have others that should have made the list?  Leave them with your comments below.

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GM CEO Mary T. Barra Releases Report Indicting Company Culture

General Motors CEO Mary T. Barra spoke to 1,000 company employees last week about the "deeply troubling" report that found the company had hidden an ignition switch defect in millions of cars, causing at least 13 deaths and 54 accidents. Industry and safety experts expect the final numbers to be much higher. 'New GM'

In defending the company's reputation, Barra and her communications team have positioned the new CEO as leader of the "new" GM versus the "old" GM responsible for hiding and ignoring the defects for more than a decade.

Positioning the old versus new GM is an interesting strategy, complicated or necessitated by the fact that Barra is a 30-year employee of the company. As she spoke to employees about the report, Barra was open and personal in her reactions.

'Saddened and disturbed'

"For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to have our shortcomings laid out so vividly," Barra said. "I was deeply saddened and disturbed as I read the report."

(While she has clearly has some media training, Barra could use additional communications coaching, as demonstrated in her rather awkward Congressional testimony.)

Written by former United States attorney Anton R. Valukas, the 300-plus page report details GM's company culture regarding safety as secretive, uncaring and bureaucratic.

Critics will continue to argue that an "independent" investigation--paid for by GM--reached conclusions that ultimately protect GM's interests.

'Best Report Money Can Buy'

"It seems like the best report money can buy," said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). "It absolves upper management, denies deliberate wrongdoing and dismisses corporate culpability."

As this crisis continues, GM will need to communicate consistently and compassionately, while making amends, as it rebuilds its reputation with consumers. Having said that, the company last month had record sales.

Another paradox of reputation management.

What do you think of GM? Leave your thoughts below.