5 Tips for Crisis Communication

Article 4 min
Review these valuable communication tips to apply during a crisis.

When a crisis occurs, and your reputation is on the line, it is vitally important to be prepared to communicate effectively. These five tips will help you manage a crisis and facilitate a more positive response from your audience.

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USE THESE COMMUNICATION PRACTICES DURING A CRISIS

Be Prepared

Planning is essential in Public Affairs. A crisis, by definition, is an unplanned event. Having a general response and contingency plans in place can save time in the event of a crisis. It is also possible that predicted issues and incidents have the potential to become a crisis. Being prepared for these can prevent escalation.

Planning is necessary for dealing with crises that cannot be prevented. Once the crisis strikes, having a plan will save time, reduce stress, mitigate confusion among team members and make good decision quickly.

To be prepared:

  • Consider all of the possible situations that could occur, especially those specific to the base location (i.e., aircraft crash, ship breach, fuel leak, etc.).
  • Write out detailed media and visual information procedures, so there is no confusion about what must be done, especially during a crisis.
  • List out team members and their contact information to ensure everyone can be brought in quickly in the event of a crisis.

Act Quickly

Time is of the essence. Reporters are on a deadline, and they will tell the story with or without you. The public is impatient, and delaying a response may lead to misinformation, or worse, a public panic. Communication at the outset of the crisis will ensure a more positive response from your audience.

When responding:

  • Acknowledge their requests as they come in; ignoring them or waiting too long to respond will result in losing control of the narrative.
  • Be open and accessible to reporters and respectful of their deadlines. The same applies when responding to the public through social media. A delay in communicating information can lead to the audience perceiving that you do not care, are unprepared, incompetent, confused or callous and can lead to a missed opportunity to communicate your message.

Percep­tion

During a crisis, the public perceives truth to be whatever public opinion says. Perception is reality. They want to know what happened, how you are responding, and how you will prevent it from happening again.

  • Use language that demonstrates care and compassion, and a commitment to do what is right.
  • Consider adding imagery. Complex situations can sometimes be conveyed by a single image more effectively than just a verbal description.
  • Acknowledge and respond to emotions that people express, such as anxiety, fear, anger, outrage, and helplessness. Respond with both words and actions.
  • Include a discussion of actions that are underway or are feasibly possible when responding during interviews.
  • Promise only what can be delivered, and make sure you follow through.
  • Acknowledge that any illness, injury, or death is a tragedy to be avoided.

Think

Think before you speak. Before an interview, develop your message and know what you want to communicate.

  • Keep statements short and simple, and express the willingness to get back to them if an answer is unknown.
  • Refrain from speculating or making assumptions; giving the media or public inaccurate information will cause greater problems.
  • Use clear, concise language–technical language and jargon are useful as professional shorthand, but they are barriers to successful communication with the public.
  • Exhibit empathy and caring. In low-trust, high-concern situations, this will often carry more weight than numbers and technical facts.
  • Ensure that what you are saying aligns with the commander's intent.

Spokes­person

The spokesperson will be the face of the crisis, so the public must perceive them as trustworthy and credible. Choose the spokesperson carefully.

  • Prepare your spokesperson to ensure they have all the information needed to convey the command message and the right details to support that message with contextual material such as Public Affairs Guidance, Briefing Cards or Subject Matter Experts.
  • Convey care, credibility, and confidence in order to connect with the audience and control the narrative.
  • Make establishing trust and credibility a primary goal of crisis communication because once they are lost, they are almost impossible to regain.

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