How to authentically communicate in a crisis


Words matter. The way they’re delivered carries the weight of the message.

The real challenge in communicating isn’t finding the right words. We can find the words. The communication challenge we face as leaders is delivering our words so that they’re heard by all. The following framework can help leaders communicate more effectively to their team in times of crisis.


In chaos, find calm

When there’s a crisis, we inherently search for a path to lead us to a state of calm. People look to their leaders to be placed on that path. As leaders, we know the easiest path is the one that has been carefully mapped out.

A crisis communication plan is key, but when the crisis hits, you’ll need to execute those plans.

Learn how to build an effective crisis communication plan.


The written statement v. oral communication

A written statement is the path of least resistance because:

  • You can perfect your message by writing, reading, reviewing, and rewriting.
  • It’s efficient. Information that’s necessary but not time-sensitive should be emailed. Examples include:
    • The office will close at 3 pm today.
    • A new employee will start on Monday.
  • It’s easier.
    • There’s no visible audience.
    • Writing reduces public speaking stress.

However, there are times when you, as a leader, need to personally deliver the message, especially in times of crisis. Your staff and stakeholders need to see you and know that you’re with them during difficult and stressful times.

Check out Flint President Jodi Duncan’s tips to get your business through the coronavirus crisis.


Be prepared to deliver your message on camera

As we maintain our physical distancing, be mindful, this energy also lives in our virtual spaces. If you’re not already, it’s time to find comfort in front of a camera.

Read more about earning media coverage during COVID-19.

Tips for being more comfortable on camera:

  1. Look directly into the camera.
    1. Looking into the camera gives you an air of confidence and authority.
    2. The audience will be able to look you in the eye, which makes your message feel more personal and authentic.
  2. Keep it concise.
    1. Short messages have more impact, are more easily remembered, and more often shared.
    2. Leave time for questions. It shows respect to your audience and acknowledges their value.
    1. Plan what you’re going to say but keep the content loose. Remember, you have the words. Tell it to them straight.
    2. Watching a speaker read is distracting and makes the message difficult to hear.
    3. Appearing to speak “off the cuff” adds authenticity to your message.
  4. Check your face.
    1. Do this before you address your audience.
    2. Facial expression and nervous tics can be distracting and will reveal your true emotions. Be sure your non-verbal messages match your oral statement.


Be vulnerable

During times of heightened stress, your team will look for a leader to provide a sense of hope and optimism. Do this by allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

  1. You don’t need all the answers before you speak to your staff or stakeholders. It’s OK to acknowledge the answers and plans that are still in the works. It’s an opportunity to unite and guide your team through the process of finding those answers and developing plans.
  2. Don’t underplay or gloss over the challenges. Crisis communication is not void of emotion. It’s honest messaging acknowledging the emotions and difficulties while moving the team forward with optimism.
  3. Listen to your audience. What are your staff and stakeholders feeling right now? Listening to your people is just as important, if not more, than delivering a message.
  4. Show your appreciation and be empathetic. Effectively communicating in a crisis will also mean pausing to show gratitude and reassurance in a time of fear. It requires empathy for those who are no longer able to show up and acknowledging a change in behavior as a symptom of the crisis rather than a failure to perform duties as assigned.

Crisis communication is an ongoing conversation. Maintain regular updates and continue to reach out and update your staff and your stakeholders until the crisis passes.

We’re facing a difficult time with issues that are sensitive while emotions are high. How you deliver your message is critical to how your words are heard.


If you’re looking for help to communicate with your team, let us know.


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