How you communicate to the public directly and through the media goes a long way in building and maintaining credibility with your audience during a crisis. There are key do's and don'ts:
- Communicate with compassion. People gravitate to people who listen and who show empathy, caring and compassion.
- Be honest, candid and open. Acknowledge when you don't have answers, and assure listeners you will provide those answers as soon as you have them. Without openness, the public will seek information from other, less accurate sources.
- Give meaningful actions to do. Tell the public what they must do immediately to protect themselves and their families. Then tell them what they should do and could do. This puts them in control and alleviates a feeling of hopelessness.
- Don't use broad statements. Avoid making assertions, such as "safety and security are our top priorities,” without proof of action. Also avoid making statements that seek to minimize the problem. You will only lose legitimacy in the eyes of a fearful public.
- Be concise and direct. Under low-stress conditions, individuals can absorb as many as seven messages at once. Under high-stress conditions, individuals process information differently and can absorb only two or three thoughts at a time.