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Like Jim McKay, talk to a group ‘one-on-one’

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in Workplace Communication

The president of ABC Sports could have picked any number of correspondents to take the anchor’s chair when terrorists seized 11 hostages at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

He picked Jim McKay.

The host of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” started his professional life as a police reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun.

McKay wasn’t a network star with blinding good looks or a grandiose manner. He never understood that he was a celebrity. The way he got through telecasts, he said, was pretending that rather than broadcasting to millions, he was talking to one person: his wife, Margaret.

The result was an unusual intimacy with his audience that may work equally well for anyone who has to communicate news, especially bad news.

When the crisis ended 16 hours later, McKay turned to the correspondents sitting to his right.

“We’ve just gotten the final word,” he said. “When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight.” He then looked straight into the camera. “They have now said that there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms. … Nine others were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

McKay’s son later asked if he’d practiced what to say. “He said it just came to him at that moment. He said, ‘I was trying to put it in perspective, and I thought of my dad.’ ”

—Adapted from “Jim McKay: The Unexpected Anchor,” Michael Sokolove, The New York Times Magazine.

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