The verbal fire drill

Heather Poltrock

The following is from WBA Young Professional Committee member Heather Poltrock who works at WSAW-TV in Wausau.

There is no feeling worse than being unprepared. In broadcasting, preparation is everything.

I remember the first time I filled in at the assignment desk. I’d been at the station about two years, but had really never the been the ‘main phone answerer’. Welp, I had about an hour into the shift when the phone rang and the person on the other end just laid into me. He was screaming upset because we ‘promised coverage’ and didn’t show up to his school the day before. I did not know what he was talking about and now I was in a position to defend a decision I was not apart of. All I could do was stutter and apologize. He eventually hung up.

I never wanted to feel that way again—unprepared and caught off guard. I replayed our conversation in my head and rehearsed what I would say if that ever happened again.

Hence, the verbal fire drill. It’s OK to rehearse for difficult conversations.

After, I spoke with a coworker who was always pretty smooth on the phones. His best piece of advice was “pretend they are recording your call”.

Silly, right?

But it makes sense. Would you want your response to be played for anyone else? He said, “So what if you need to pause for a few seconds to craft a response? It’s better than saying something stupid.”

It’s also OK to not have the answer. “I am going to need to take some time to look into this story/situation/decision. May I have your phone number so that I can get back to you?”

Now, you’re probably wondering about the call I mentioned above. What would I say if I took that call today?

“I’m very sorry. Clearly there was a miscommunication. Do you have any photos or video from the event? Please send them to me so I can write a web article and give the students some recognition”.

Anyway… The important thing to keep in the back of your mind is broadcasting is show business. And the business aspect is extremely important. Viewers are customers. And while I won’t go as far as saying the customer is always right (because if they are not, we need to correct them) every customer is important, and we need to do our very best to make it right.

Heather Poltrock
WSAW-TV, Wausau