Practice doesn’t always make perfect…but it helps!

Practice doesn’t always make perfect…but it helps!

York Region Paramedics captured from
York Region Paramedics captured from

Crisis Communications: Practice… doesn’t always make perfect…

Crisis Communications: Practice… doesn’t always make perfect…… but it sure does help!
Practice makes perfect... or does it?

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve likely heard it 1000 times, “practice makes perfect”. Although this expression can serve as an excellent motivator – especially to our children, how attainable is perfect? Oxford Dictionary defines (verb) perfect as, “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible”. I suppose, in the context of a written exam, perfect would be 100% or in a blackjack hand, being dealt a face card and an ace could be considered a perfect hand, but how does perfection and the notion of practice makes perfect translate to crisis communications?

When providing crisis communication or media training and coaching, I often find myself relating to my years of service as a Paramedic as an example to applying principles, theories, and tools to crisis communication. I hope this translates well here:

This is me, at the head of the patient, and some of my colleagues (at the time) from the Cochrane Fire Department

In 1995, I started my Emergency Medical Services career. In those days, the first practitioner level in the Province of Alberta was Emergency Medical Technician – Ambulance (EMT-A). EMT’s in the province had a basic set of skills including spinal immobilization, oxygen therapy, splinting, bandaging, IV therapy, etc. The EMT course was approximately 6 months long and was taught at a local community college. Instructors of the course were typically current practitioners (usually at the higher Paramedic level).

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One of the skills we learned and practiced was spinal immobilization. Spinal immobilization was used when emergency medical service practitioners suspected possible injury to a patient’s spinal column – most commonly during motor vehicle collisions, but also during falls, sporting events, assaults, etc. There are a variety of tools that emergency responders will use to help immobilize a patient: backboard, cervical collar, tape, Kendrick Extrication Device (KED), backboard straps, etc. In training, we spent countless hours practicing immobilizing patients (other students in our class).

The principles of spinal immobilization were clear: one person always held the head (still); the person at the head was in charge (of any move); the body was moved or rolled in one motion; as best possible, the spinal column remained in-line; the person at the head did not let go until the patient was completely secured – backboard, collar, straps, tape, etc. We practiced in the classroom – setting up chairs and pretending the chairs were seats in a car – when we were feeling adventurous, we would go out to the school parking lot and use one of our cars. We practiced, practiced, practiced – following the research-proven principles of spinal immobilization and utilized the proper tools to achieve our goal.

Spinal immobilization perfection was difficult to measure. In the medical field, the expression, “do no harm” prevails and if we got our patient to the hospital without causing further (or potential) damage to our patients spinal column, then we were successful. The challenge however, was when we faced an event that we hadn’t practiced – something outside of imagining two classroom chairs was a car, or pretending that our perfectly in tact car in the parking lot had been a wreck.

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Pulling up on the scene of a crash such as this could have felt extremely intimidating. We had not practiced or exercised to respond to a situation like this. WTF? A car on its side, wrapped around a pole with an unconscious patient could have quickly become overwhelming. Our response however, was to fall back and rely on our training and our practice. Although the details of the situation we were facing was different, our tools hadn’t changed and the principles of spinal immobilization were the same. Absolutely, the patient came out of that car (image as an example only) with the help from our extrication experts at the fire department. Albeit, far from “perfect”.

The same holds true for crisis communications. Every organization should have a crisis communications plan (if you don’t, I am happy to help). That crisis communication should be practiced (if you don’t, I am happy to help). That same plan, ought to contain tools and principles that can be relied on, when you are called upon to use them (if it doesn’t, I am happy to help). Once built and practiced, your plan, principles, and tools, will help guide you through any scenario – not just on the classroom chairs.

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Practice, doesn’t always make perfect. It does help set you up for success. Practicing your plan will also help your organization identify growth opportunities. When brand, reputation, or even lives are at risk, perfect doesn’t matter – your ability and confidence to respond does.

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The Centre for Crisis & Risk Communications follows and practices the science-based principles and proven tools of world-leading crisis communication expert, Dr. Vincent Covello. The Centre can help create and audit crisis communication plans, conduct table top and functional exercises, and support your organization through an event. Visit for more details.

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