It can be hard to think about communication when things are so uncertain. During these days of social distancing, communication is a powerful action that we have available to us right now. In many ways, it’s the only action we have to keep things going.
Each Wednesday at 10am EST, we host a Weekly Communication Support Check-In to share best practices and discuss with each other how we are communicating differently (or the same) during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some notes from our first couple meet-ups that may help you navigate what’s most important to communicate now.
This moment is offering an opportunity to move back and focus. It can give you the much-needed breathing room to analyze and understand the distinction between different kinds of communication and take the time to apply the right form, style and voice for the specific needs. Communication generally falls into these 3 categories. Which are you actually doing in the moment?:
- Big Picture Musings – this is your “thought-leader” perspective where you are conveying broad ideas, vision for the future and less tangible movement toward a larger goal.
- Conveying Specific Information – are you shifting programs? Cancelling in-person events? Launching a new online something? This kind of communication is about very clear information that needs to get through to the audience with very little extra content.
- Engaging and Calling to Action – are you asking your audience to DO something? This kind of communication is about inviting others to do something that has some social benefit.
It’s very difficult to do all three at the same time and audiences rarely have the ability to absorb and engage in communication that tries to convey all three unless they are in “learning” mode. Even though it seems like people might have more time on their hands to be in learning mode, the emotional response to crisis and uncertainty creates barriers to real engagement.
Be mindful about the amount of communication overload that is happening right now. Most people are getting their communication through all of these channels:
- Web browsing
- Phone Calls
- Social Media
Whew! That’s a lot of communication! As much as you can, think about those experiences from a personal perspective. What is YOUR experience? What do you respond to? What feels overloaded? And what are you tuning out altogether? Design and activate your communication intentionally with those experiences in mind.
Keep communication simple, clear and connected to your values & unique purpose.
Here are some other tips for taking time to design your communication with intention:
- Be clear with yourself about what and why you are communicating
- Plan it out. Remember outlines? They work. Plot out the flow of what you are communicating so you have a roadmap before you start drafting your message or creating visuals/interactive pieces.
- Don’t edit while you make the first draft. Just let it flow. Edit later.
- Keep it simple. If you have something longer to say (i.e. Big-Picture Musings), do it in a blog or video. You are probably always looking for new content. Take this opportunity to craft a story out of long communication.
- Use Headlines & Bullets to help your audience find key ideas.
- Always include a Call to Action.
More About Calls to Action
I’ve heard a lot during this time about people feeling reticent to ASK anybody anything. Whether it’s engagement, fundraising or helping to spread a specific message, it seems people feel like now isn’t the time to call to action because everything is so uncertain and dire.
Calls to action are a demonstration of hope. When you ask someone to do something, you are saying that there’s value in doing anything right now. That THEY are valued enough to be included in the call. And that you are making a commitment to keep going with their help.
Don’t Forget the Social Arts
Rapid-fire communication has its pitfalls because it can run roughshod over sensitivities and basic communication etiquette. Take time to think like your audience, apply the Golden Rule to your communication and EDIT BEFORE YOU SEND. If you have time, ask someone in the audience to read your communication before you send it everywhere. It doesn’t have to take long and you don’t need to over-analyze. Just take a few extra steps to make it the best it can be within the time and resources you have.
A Communication Practice
If any of the insights above seem like second nature to you, then you probably already have a “communications practice” that helps you stay on course. If you don’t, this is a great time to develop one and build a habit for the future. Think about the steps you take when developing a piece of communication. Can you identify them in a flow? Can you use design to create a natural system for yourself?
Bottom line, this is a great moment to practice being authentic and true to your mission in every way you communicate. Authenticity isn’t just a marketing gimmick, it’s the way real people communicate and engage each other and everyone knows it when they see it or hear it.
In that spirit, it’s OK to express uncertainty because that is the norm right now. Don’t avoid it, but do make sure you have taken the time to look at the uncertainty and the future through the lens of your value and purpose.
Always align all of your communication within your Mission. Don’t waste time on information that is already being covered elsewhere. Key in on your unique purpose and what this moment means for you and your organization. That’s all you can really know and the best message to share right now.
Join the Weekly Communication Support Zoom on Weds @10am EST