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Crisis Communication Tips

In a crisis, how you communicate is critical. Here are some of the worst and best things you and your clients can do when communicating during a crisis, courtesy of communications lecturer Abigail Borron.

Worst:

Winging it/Shooting from the hip: Don't just assume you know how to handle a sudden crisis. You need to fully understand your role in the situation as well as the roles of your counterparts. Be sure you have all the available facts before you start talking to the public.

Being silent: In critical circumstances, silence is NOT golden. The media and/or your audiences may be relying on your expertise. If you aren't ready and willing to speak up, you may lose credibility and the opportunity to educate the public.

Downplaying the situation: Downplaying can only get you into trouble. If you downplay the severity of a situation, you may inadvertently put people at risk and tick them off, too.

Being entrenched: Often a crisis requires a change in attitude and in existing protocols. You should be ready to adjust as needed.

Best:

Showing compassion: It's important to recognize and acknowledge what your audience is experiencing.

Saying it over and over again: Crisis communication is much like advertising. It often takes an audience an average of five times to hear a message before it is understood.

Recognizing and accepting responsibility: You need to be upfront with your audience. When it is necessary to change or make a correction, do so in an open and honest manner.

Being swift, decisive, and real: During a crisis, an audience expects information immediately. As a reliable source, your responses should demonstrate quick-thinking and decisiveness. This will help make your audience feel secure and confident in a time of uncertainty. (Note: Quick-thinking takes place when you have the facts, while shooting from the hip takes place in the absence of the facts.)

Planning for the unexpected: No crisis or disaster can be planned to the very last detail; however, your area of expertise and possible past experience may enable you to prepare ahead of time for potential crisis scenarios.

Listening: Listening to other responses, victims of the crisis, and stakeholders not directly affected, will help you determine what information needs to be communicated and better understand the needs of your audience.

Screentime is frequently asked to assist with EPKs (Electronic Press Kits), emergency media training (the afternoon before the CEO has to go on "Close Up" or "Campbell Live" to carry out damage control!), and communicating important messages to staff on crisis issues.

Sometimes calm, objective guidance in times of a communication crisis can mean the difference between that crisis escalating and a communications problem being solved.