With the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the need for concise communication and steady leadership has increased exponentially.
How do you effectively communicate in a crisis? How do you instill confidence as a leader while highlighting the importance of the crisis so that people take it seriously?
While it seems like Communications 101, it can be quite complicated for those in leadership positions who have never faced a crisis of this magnitude.
Let’s start with the basics.
Communicating effectively, in a crisis or otherwise, starts with a basic question: What do you want to communicate, and who is your target audience?
In a crisis, this becomes even more critically important; who are you talking to and what do they need to hear? Using the COVID-19 crisis as an example, if you are a business, do you want people to know that you are open? Are you still available to deliver products?
Embrace the concerns your audience has and help alleviate them.
For example, in the current crisis with COVID-19, an education technology company has an opportunity to fill a void if consumers know you exist. For many students across the country, school is out for at least a few weeks, and parents are looking for educational resources to help keep their kids busy as well as on track with schoolwork.
Next, be concise and keep it simple.
Tell people what they need to know at the level they are able to process it. Communicating in a crisis is not the time for flowery language or excessive thesaurus use. Speak plainly and deliver the facts as succinctly as possible.
Localize your communication.
What do the people in your community need to hear? In a more rural area, the concern may be access to care. In a metropolitan area, it may be more about reminding residents of the importance of social distancing. For seniors, those seemingly at the highest risk of illness from the coronavirus, the concern may be access to basic needs: food and medication. Knowing what your community needs can help you communicate to them and assuage their worries.
For an excellent example of crisis communications, we can look to the DeWine administration in Ohio.
Governor DeWine has been praised by both his political allies and adversaries as an excellent communicator during this trying time. Governor DeWine has talked to the concerned citizens of Ohio daily, giving them factual information in a calm and reasoned way. He has partnered with health experts, community and business leaders, and advisors to confidently deliver information in a way that apprises the citizens of Ohio of what is happening without stoking fear or downplaying the severity of what we are facing. As a result, DeWine has stayed ahead of the panic and is setting an example for leaders across the nation for how to lead in a time of crisis.
Communicating effectively in a time of crisis offers a tremendous opportunity.
In moments of crisis, leaders, whether in government or private industry, can contribute to calm or to chaos. Knowing what you want to communicate and doing so in a concise and simple way can calm the tumultuous waters created by a crisis. Identify your audience, embrace the concerns that they have and help address them, and keep your communication fact-based and simple.
Confidence in the delivery will lead to a sense of calm, organization, certainty, and hope: things in short supply in a crisis.