7 Tips for Communicating in a Crisis

Sometimes, for all of us, it is hard to find the appropriate words. When we are faced with a global crisis, that problem is even more acute. 

Yet as leaders and as business owners, it is crucial that we keep the lines of communication open. 

I have seen three different forms of communication over the past few weeks- no communication; poor communication and good communication. 

My son is a 3rd year Engineering student. When schools and colleges were closed a few weeks ago, he was anxious to find out what would happen for the rest of the coursework, the projects, the exams. There was no communication with the students for almost 2 weeks. 
I’m not suggesting that the college should have had all of the answers immediately. But an email outlining that they were putting plans in place and would be back in contact would alleviate the uncertainty. 

I have seen examples of poor communication in workplaces. Employees who could work from home being told to come in to work or face consequences. Poor communication to staff regarding social distancing and hand hygiene. Poor communication with regard to temporary layoffs. All of this adding extra stress and anxiety to an already difficult situation. 

“The art of communication is the language of leadership”

Staff look to management for leadership in times of crisis. James Humes, speech writer for 5 American presidents, said “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

We have seen the language of leadership here in Ireland since the Covid-19 crisis has begun. 
Like most of the country, I watched Leo Varadker’s speech on St Patrick’s evening. I was very impressed with how he spoke and I found the speech quite emotional. I wasn’t alone. I went onto Twitter to gauge public reaction and it was very positive. Many tweets began along the lines of “I didn’t vote for Fine Gael but…”
Politics and personality no longer mattered. Leo spoke the language of leadership and we, as a country, needed to hear it. 
Dr. Tony Holohan has also been very impressive in his communication. 


7 Tips for Communicating in a Crisis

What lessons can we learn from them? 

1. Keep it simple. 
Use language that is easy for the audience to understand. 

2.Have a strong key message. 
There is a lot of uncertainty about how this virus will progress. But the key message of what we need to do to slow the spread has been clear from the start. 

3. Consider the audience. 
We were struck by the empathetic nature of Leo Varadker’s speech. We are constantly being told that the public are being asked to make huge sacrifices and are being acknowledged for their role. 

4. Minimum statistics.
We could get overwhelmed by hearing the statistics of every aspect of this crisis. When speaking, keep the statistics to a minimum of what is essential for the audience to know. 

5. Speak slowly. 
Speaking slowly has many advantages. It implies confidence. It adds gravitas to the message. It allows the audience time to absorb what is being said.

6. Don’t sugarcoat bad news. 
Leo Varadker’s speech left us in no doubt that the situation was bad and was going to get worse. “Many of you want to know when this will be over. The truth is we just don’t know yet.”
By telling us upfront what he doesn’t know, we are more likely to trust him when he says what he knows- “We know the best strategies focus on testing, contact tracing and social distancing. So, that is our strategy.”

 7. End on a note of hope. 
When possible, it is important to end on a (realistic) upbeat note. I thought that Leo Varadker’s speech achieved this well. 

“Viruses pay no attention to borders, race, nationality or gender. They are the shared enemy of all humanity. And so will be the shared enterprise of all humanity that finds a treatment and a vaccine that protects us.”


If you would like to find out how I can help you develop your communication and presentation skills, email maureen@softskillsuccess.ie

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