The situation is changing by the minute. You’ve no idea how it might play out. You’ve got customers, investors and even journalists on the phone, looking for answers. Staff are starting to speculate.
What on earth are you supposed to say?
Don’t panic. Being able to communicate effectively under pressure will help you get on top of the issue. Some communication is normally better than none. Even if you’re still figuring out what comes next, you’ll earn the trust of your audiences by telling them so.
Take a deep breath and let these five points guide your next steps.
Step one: identify who needs the message
Before you’ve decided what to say, identify who needs to hear from you. Chances are there will be several groups. Note them down and then prioritise the most important.
A one-size-fits all message probably won’t cut it. Your suppliers need information that your customers will find useful, and vice versa.
Decide on the overarching message you need EVERYONE to know, e.g. you’re remaining open for business. Then choose two additional bullet points you need to communicate each audience group. Then stop.
Step two: knowing how much to say
In times of crisis brevity is useful. Give too much detail and the important messages may get lost. Consistency is key in a crisis situation. Make sure your overarching message is in your opening line, and if necessary, in your closing line.
Use bullet points to draft a couple of paragraphs for each of your audience groups, but be economical with the language. If you can avoid it, don’t use more than five lines.
Remember, “We’re working on it,” is much more effective than radio silence. The latter leaves a vacuum for speculation that can quickly snowball out of control.
Step three: be thinking about the next question
Once you’ve prepared your message, think about the follow-up questions from your audiences.
Get your team to imagine they are your customers, your suppliers etc. Have them read through the messages and note down any questions they would have in that position. Use this to create a FAQ sheet.
Once the communications are issued, your team needs to be armed with these responses.
Step four: delivering the message
Think carefully about the channels you’re going to use. Control of the message is the important thing here. So, don’t post the communication to a social media channel that nobody is monitoring.
Choose direct forms of communication where possible. An emailer or a text message could help you address your recipients directly. A generic Twitter post might be useful, but make sure existing customers, staff or suppliers don’t see it there first.
Step five: listen, don’t speak
Once you’ve said it, step back. Listen to the responses, regroup and decide when the next communication should be. If you’ve set out timelines in the original message, stick to them. You’ll earn trust.