When in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, communication is key. Exponential’s advice is not just ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’, but communicate in a planned and systematic way.
Step 1: Develop a crisis communication plan
Ideally, you will already have a contingency plan based on a risk assessment for your organisation. Many organisations including Exponential Training, as a matter of routine, identify risks, anticipate and plan for worst case scenarios and have in place a set of actions ready for implementation. By having such contingency plans, taking the necessary emergency action can be implemented promptly.
Step 2: Use a crisis communication team
Larger organisation should consider setting up a crisis communication team in the event of a major crisis. The team should comprise members of the senior management – the role of this team is to review the scale and impact of the crisis by liaising with key personnel from across the organisation.
Step 3: Nominate a spokesperson
The spokesperson will be the visible person leading the communications process. Ideally, the spokesperson will be a senior person with direct knowledge of the crisis – it must also be someone employees respect. The more experience and knowledge this person has of the crisis, the more their credibility and therefore the more effective they will be in generating trust and confidence when communicating
Step 4: Create fact sheets
Draft a summary statement that includes all the appropriate details. Balance the information with respect to the stakeholders’ right to know and the company’s needs for privacy. This sheet is used to ensure the messages you give are consistently accurate.
Step 5: Establish your key message
It is always important to determine your key message. You must ensure that your key message has the right tone and provides the right context for delivering the message. Now your communication can be built around this message.
Step 6: Plan for questions
Try to anticipate the questions that your audience might want to ask, and the issues that might be causing them anxiety.
Step 7: Select your communication channels
Decide how you are going to convey your message:
- What do you need to say face-to-face? (either live or on-line)
- Which media might you need to contact?
- Should you hold a news conference?
- Do you need a telephone hotline?
- How will you up-date your website and social media channels to deliver messages?
- Brief your team (e.g. switchboard) how to handle calls
- Determine if other communication channels will be used such as meetings and news releases.
Step 8: Coordinate all communication
An effective communications plan will release information to the media, employees, and other stakeholders at planned times and potential simultaneously. If that is not possible, ensure that your employees and other prime stakeholders are directly informed first.
Top Tips: Do not withhold information that you intend to share
- Share bad news in one go
If you share in bite size chunks, you risk looking as if you were deliberately withholding information – this can impact on how much you are trusted in the future.
- Be up-front
If you do not know the answer or are unable to go into detail on something, then be honest and say that you do not have this information at this time or that you are unable to discuss that information at this time.
- Be empathic
Aim to view things from the perspective of your audience. This will help you to deliver your message in a more sensitive, authentic way.
- Stay calm
Whilst easier said than done, your message will have more impact if you speak calmly demonstrating you are confident, competent and in control.
- Timely communication
Timing plays an important part in effective communication. Communication needs to be timely and this usually means sooner rather than later. Failure to communicate in a timely manner leaves a vacuum that enables people to speculate and to spread misinformation.
- Stay in control
To retain control, you need to plan when and how key messages will be delivered. You need to plan who will deliver them. Your messages need to be clear, concise, accurate and comprehensive messages and well-timed.
Effective communication during a crisis requires planning and genuine leadership. To be ready and to instil confidence should a crisis occur take the time now to prepare, plan and prioritise key messages.
To find out more about communicating in a crisis, check out Communication in a Crisis – Part 1
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