Communication That Works In A Crisis: Tips And Techniques

by Jane Jordan

AdobeStock_293433116_615 x 258

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented communication.

And in times of a crisis, like now with the very real concerns of COVID-19, leaders are under intense pressure to get their messages right – lives are at risk.

So, here are some tips and techniques that will help you craft effective, efficient messages and help you with your mission critical communication.

1. Introducing the 4C formula

  • = Concern: empathy, sensitivity, humanity 
  • aCtion = demonstrate that concern by the actions you have taken/are taking to protect your staff, stay open, meet customer demands and expectations 
  • Context = perspective to give people a way of thinking about your actions
  • Call to Action = what do you want people to think, feel, say, do as result of message?

    Let's see this in action.

Let us assume that you are communicating with a very concerned customer, let's call them Nicky, a customer worried about social distancing at the small group meeting (10 people) you have planned. 

We, like you Nicky, are feeling very concerned at the potential impacts of COVID-19. It's a scary, unprecedented time for all of us with lots to consider to keep us all safe. (Concern

Let me reassure you that we take social distancing very seriously  indeed, so we are implementing the WHO guidelines for our essential, f2f planning meeting. The actions we're taking to help ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all of us attending are:

  • Maintaining 1.5 metres between seats
  • No social contact, i.e. no handshaking, no hugs, no kissing
  • No more than 15 minutes in close contact 
  • No more than two hours in a confined space
  • Lots of fresh air with windows open 
  • Extra hand washing facilities with soap
  • We've also set-up a social isolation (aCtion. Provide 3, 5 or 7 examples. Three is ideal) 

We've consulted XX (e.g. NSW Health) and they have agreed we can proceed, and I can assure you that we'll be doing the utmost to protect you, all our fellow participants, and the wider community. After all, it's our treasured reputation as a trusted adviser that's on the line. (Context)

We're doing all we can and ask that you do too. Bring hand sanitiser if you can, stay away if you suddenly feel unwell and please bring those fabulous health posters. (Call to action

2. Practice KISS!

"Keep it simple, stupid" or "Keep it stupid simple".

No more than 30 seconds, thirty words and three sentences.

3. Remember they are 10!

To coin the words of Fleet Street publisher, Lord Northcliffe, make your words succinct, concise and consistent in a language that 10-years-olds will understand. 

Why?

When people are under stress, indeed panicking, and we've certainly seen a lot of that, our ability to comprehend and take in lots of facts is significantly impaired. We may forget that we can speak English, and revert to our native language, for example. 

So:
  • make sure you speak/write in a language that a 10-year-old will understand
  • eliminate jargon
  • use short sentences
  • avoid negative language (eliminate don't, not etc.)
  • speak in active tense
  • choose an adjective that sums up people's feelings (e.g. we're shocked, we're committed) and,
  • make sure that what you say and do aligns with your values.

4. Update incrementally 

The key to successful communication in a crisis and the rapidly evolving situation is to update regularly.
  • Short, sharp updates with a clear call to action (even if it's to repeat a key action).
  • Counter panic and misinformation immediately – for every negative piece of news, you will need at least six counter messages. 
  • Use the medium/channel that is trusted most by your key, priority stakeholders. 
  • Video will be powerful and more effective.
  • Choose a central communication hub, e.g. website, Facebook messenger, SMS, and stay there. Avoid the temptation of starting something new in a crisis.
  • Use reliable, trusted channels. 
  • Update/post at the same time every day, e.g. every two-four hours, or first thing in the morning, at lunchtime and at the end of the day. 

Author Profile(s)

Jane Jordan is recognised globally as a leader in crisis management. Her book, The Four Highly Effective Stages of Crisis Management, is seen as the gold standard for who says what, when, in a crisis. A former journalist and award-winning PR consultant, Jane’s career spans over 30 years working with senior management teams on strategic communication, reputation management and risk mitigation in Australia, New Zealand and North America. Her crisis leadership training and coaching is legendary with hundreds of company and government spokespeople working with her to understand their roles and responsibilities in a crisis. All Jane’s work is evidence-based and is derived from a four-stage methodology which was pioneered at The Jordan Templeman Group, a media training company she co-founded and led from 1997–2001. Jane now offers coaching and strategy sessions via Zoom.