Good spokespeople can be born… but the best ones are made.

That’s not just a self-serving statement on my part. I am living it.

As I write this, I am in the Birmingham airport waiting for a ride to Dallas. The American Red Cross is training communicators this week.

Now, I was in broadcast journalism for 16 years, and I very well understand what reporters and editors want and how to give it to them. My media training business is built on the idea that “civilians” can overcome a lot of fear and poor press by knowing how the sausage is made. If you can take the trepidation out through advance training, you can enhance the message and be confident that your point will at least be heard.

However, the Red Cross program I am entering is a specialized breed. When a major disaster strikes a community, the local Red Cross spokespeople are usually running beyond full capacity just getting vital information to the public. You can easily fill 16-hour days just fielding calls from local reporters, monitoring local news, and pushing important updates to local media. (I was doing 18-hour days during Katrina.) Simply put, you don’t have the luxury to deal with Good Morning America, CNN, the New York Times, and Newsweek.

That’s where this training comes in. Rapid Response Communicators take on-call shifts, and are ready to zip into a disaster area. By shielding the local volunteers from national media, it allows the important services and information to flow uniterrupted. It also ensures that the national media will get consistent information and Red Cross messaging.

Major disasters already have enough confusion and chaos — the flow of assistance doesn’t need to be choked off by poor communication. Particularly when you have hundreds of thousands of volunteers, any one of which can create national embarrassment with a stray or ill-informed comment.

I’ll share what I can through the week.