Monday, May 12, 2014

How is Crisis Communication different from public speaking?

Wikipedia has a web page about Crisis Communication, but it’s public-relations focused and not very useful. When I went looking for better information, I found it by starting at a web page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the topic of Crisis & Emergency Risk Communication (CERC). They have a comprehensive, 478-page Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication manual that you can download for free. On the cover is their mantra:

“Be first. Be Right. Be credible.”

There also is a downloadable 58-page Basic CERC Quick Guide. Figure 1-5 on print page 52 is a Spokesperson pocket guide that summarizes how to communicate in a crisis.    

In a crisis people are stressed out. The message you give them needs to be especially clear, simple, and brief. Page 57 of the Quick Guide states six principles of CERC:

“Be First.
If the information is yours to provide by organizational authority—do so as soon as possible. If you can’t provide the information, then explain how you are working to get it.

Be Right.
Give facts in increments. Tell people what you know when you know it, tell them what you don’t know, and tell them if you will know relevant information later.

Be Credible.
Tell the truth. Do not withhold to avoid embarrassment or the possible ‘panic’ that seldom happens. Uncertainty is worse than not knowing. Remember, rumors are more damaging than hard truths.

Express Empathy.
Acknowledge in words what people are feeling - it builds trust.

Promote Action.
Give people things to do. It calms anxiety and helps restore order.

Show Respect.
Treat people the way you want to be treated, even when hard decisions must be communicated.”

How can you follow these principles? In my previous post I described a technique called Message Mapping. I found a very detailed 42-minute video for EPA about it and other tools by  Dr.Vincent T. Covello. Unfortunately, the resolution is poor so many slides are hard to read. A clearer version of the West Nile Virus message map example is shown above.

Covello has presented similar material elsewhere, so you can find his other templates either here or here. You can find all his slides from his March 2010 Warren K. Sinclair keynote lecture on Risk Communication here.

The May/June issue of the Capitol Ideas newslettter from the Council of State Governments has an article titled Communication: Anticipate Prepare and Practice, which discusses the 27/9/3 rule (prepare your sound bite with 27 words, for nine seconds with just 3 messages), and quotes Covello:

“If you don’t keep it short and simple, someone else will make it short and simple for you.”

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