Royal Commissions and Government Inquiries – Surviving the Spotlight

You wouldn’t face a criminal hearing without legal advice, so why face a public hearing without professional help in communication?

It’s stressful enough to face a Royal Commission or a Senate Estimates hearing, or any government inquiry for that matter. On top of that, you’re usually being live streamed outside the hearing room, and the news media is ready to pounce.

This can be the ultimate in reality TV and it’s easy to become the villain.

The legacy of perception

A few hours in a witness box can haunt your organisation long after a hearing.

For example, what do we remember most about the Banking Royal Commission? The end result wasn’t the legacy from this hearing. The court of public opinion reached its verdict in the early days; the banks were greedy, customers were helpless, and regulators failed to protect them.

What impressions did we form about churches and church leaders in the Abuse Royal Commission?

Senate Estimates hearings cover a wide range of worthy issues about government spending, but we only tend to remember the awkward moments when public servants have been caught in political crossfire.

Prepare for everything

It makes good sense for witnesses to prepare for every element of their evidence, and for their employers or organisations to provide them with the tools they need.

Legal advice is vital but it tends to focus on the end-game of the inquiry. It’s just as crucial to understand the immediate impact of your evidence. 

Your efforts to provide a matter-of-fact description might come across as arrogant. Or you might seem heartless when you try to explain that something was not your area of responsibility.

Most of us can relate to the stress of a job interview, and the need to practise answers with a partner or a trusted friend. Training for public inquiries takes this concept further. Your ‘trusted friend’ in this instance is a professional outsider – an experienced journalist and communication professional – who understands the potential fallout.

“Media Manoeuvres starts with extensive research on the topics being covered,” explains Managing Director, Sam Elam. “The training involves easy-to-follow theory on how we speak and practical exercises in presentation,” says Ms Elam.

“It’s designed to challenge the trainee and build their confidence.” 

Ms Elam says the most common feedback from trainees is that they feel supported ahead of a daunting process.

Top 3 benefits of Communication Training

  • It’s 100% transferable to other public speaking roles
  • It helps the witness feel less nervous about the appearance
  • It can identify knowledge gaps and presentation weaknesses

Legal opinion versus public opinion

When an accused criminal is arrested, they’re told that anything they say can be taken down and used as evidence against them. Lawyers live by this belief, whether it’s a criminal case, a civil lawsuit or a court of inquiry. If you say too much, you can self-incriminate.

However, if it’s your reputation at stake, that’s hard to deal with. In that court of public opinion, your silence can be deafening. Answers that are too brief can appear deceptive or defensive.

Training helps to balance your legal boundaries and the messages you want to deliver.

Opportunity for change

Witnesses get called to public inquiries for two main reasons. They could be facing serious questions about their actions, or they could be offering solutions for the future.

If you’re in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, a public hearing can help your organisation reset for the future. The scrutiny can be painful, but it can also be an opportunity. Professional training helps you identify and articulate this insight.

If you’re in the hearing to offer suggestions for change, then don’t let those valuable ideas get buried in a scripted sales pitch. It’s a chance to engage with the process and influence decisions.

Honesty is the best policy

Communication training is not about coaching you on your evidence or advising you what to say.

It’s about applying deliberate pressure to help you understand how others might see you. It helps you avoid potential pitfalls. And it provides techniques for clear, calm communication under pressure. 

Honest feedback in a private training room is much better than brutal headlines from a public hearing.

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