Think before you speak

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A group of reporters were huddled around two law enforcement officials discussing a plane crash in North Alabama earlier this week. The impromptu press conference was held down the block of the crash site, with the smoldering gnarled remnants of the airplane a few hundred feet away.

In such situations, there are often a lot of reporters who ask questions on top of one another, or, obviously missing out on one answer or another, ask the same question twice.

You have to be pretty aggressive at times and take an advantage of any lull in the action to get your own questions answered.

A young reporter took the opportunity of such a break in the questions to ask one of her own, “Can you confirm there was an airplane crash?”

Silence. The law enforcement officials look puzzled, as the wreckage could be seen over their shoulders.

You could tell by the look on the young reporter’s face that she wanted to take those words back, put them in her pocket and crawl away quietly.

I felt for her. We’ve all been there. We’ve all said something that, the second it leaves our lips, we wish we hadn’t. To say these things in a group, as opposed to just an individual, makes things even worse.

Years ago, I was at an after-hour networking event, standing around with a large group of people. I spoke up and addressed one of the people in the group and proceeded to tell a story about something we had done together.

There was one problem. I had the wrong person. Sure, she looked like the person I had in mind and even worked in the same industry, but I didn’t really know this person, much less have some interesting shared history.

I wasn’t too long into the story when I realized I was talking about the wrong person. Thankfully, the event speaker got up to address the group just at this moment, saving me from having to choose whether to continue the story about the wrong person.

Even now when I see this person somewhere, I head the other direction. It’s simply too embarrassing to face her again.

I’m sure the young reporter feels the same way but I’m also sure she will get through this. You can be sure, however, before she speaks up at the next press conference, she will think about her question carefully.