post communication

Communication in the age of Covid

I had an urgent request yesterday (Sunday afternoon) from the CEO of a company actively involved in the fight against Coronavirus. 

He’s a very proactive leader and wants to encourage his people by letting them know he’s doing everything he can for them even though he can’t get physically close at the moment. 

So, he wanted to know, how could he do that…? 

Simples, I said. Make a quick video. So we got to work and made one there and then. Using my PC and his Smartphone, we set up a Zoom conversation. On Zoom we went through what he should say and how. I asked some leading questions to elicit the key points. I went through the basics of how to make a phone video – what to have behind you, where to look, voice tone etc – and then recorded it on Zoom one piece at a time, as if it was a radio interview (I spent years as a local radio reporter). I asked the client to add an introduction and a payoff line. 

We recorded two messages this way, as he has two audiences – his own workforce, and other healthcare organisations who are the company’s clients. 

Now the clever part. I took the Zoom recording and put it into an editing program (I edit videos with Sony Vegas). I ‘zoomed’ the shot (in the old sense) to create a tighter image and cut out the extraneous parts. 

I cut my voice entirely and deleted the fluffs, umms, errs and pauses. (It’s hard not to have some of these – especially when you’re at home on your own sofa and your partner/cameraperson is doing her best to stop the phone from wobbling…) 

I put the intro and the payoff in the right places, added a fade in and a fade out and a news-style name caption with the client’s name and organisation. After a final check, I ‘rendered’ both films (the process of turning them into playable MP4 videos). Then I sent them to the client via (a handy large-file transmission service – videos are typically too big to email direct). 

All the client then had to do was upload them on to Vimeo and the company website, ready to be viewed by the very peripatetic workforce. 

1) Leadership 

A key reason for these videos is that people need to see you and hear you – even before you’ve said anything. You’re the leader. Your people want you to tell them it’s going to be OK. Even if it’s patently not OK now. This is partly the psychological need for a comforting mummy/daddy, and partly the need to be reassured that you have a plan and know what you’re doing.

2) Updates 

If something has changed – the situation, the need, the processes, people’s jobs or roles – now’s the time to tell them. Be factual and straightforward. Don’t sugarcoat things but don’t pull punches either. If you’re announcing something negative (to them), follow up immediately by saying you understand how difficult that is for people, and explain what you propose to do in response. 

3) Certainty 

People love certainty and hate uncertainty. So at a time of all-pervasive uncertainty, it’s important to spell out what’s changing and what’s staying the same. And this should be updated whenever new information comes to light. In the absence of information, damaging rumours can start. It’s your job to knock them on the head by providing reliable news. 

4) Competence & independence 

In a crisis, the ‘rules’ of who does what at work can get a bit fuzzy. A lot of people are thrust into situations where they have to act quickly and decisively without asking permission as they would in normal times. This can make them uneasy. Be clear that you are really proud of the professional competence of your team. And in these times you trust them to show initiative and think and act on the hoof. But clarify what decisions you want them to make alone and which ones still need to be referred up. 

5) Team bonding 

The sense of working as a team is vital to our mental health. Even if we spend a lot of time working in physical isolation, it’s tremendously encouraging to feel part of a unit of people sharing the same experiences, the same values, the same interpretation of the world. You can use Zoom to have regular Virtual Coffees – no agenda, just sharing thoughts and experiences as you would round the ‘water cooler’. As a leader, talk about team accomplishments and how proud you are of them. Be as specific as possible. General praise can sound trite and insincere. 

6) Fair shares 

A very deep-seated human need is for work and rewards to be distributed fairly. In times of crisis, change happens. And people jump very quickly to the conclusion that certain groups or individuals are benefitting unfairly, getting preferential treatment. When making announcements In your videos, make sure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. Jealousy can poison an organisation. 

7) Fight the good fight 

Humans are hard-wired to be alert to conflict. In the current situation, it’s a matter of life and death. Will I die? Fall ill? My family? Friends? Community? Etc. Scaremongering is good for no one. But presenting the virus as an enemy which we must defeat by working together is a good approach in a video or article. State the facts dispassionately, then give us your plan and explain what you want the viewers to do. Use military language – fight, battle, campaign – but stay calm and speak dispassionately. 

8) Tell stories 

A good way to get people to listen to a message is to tell it through stories. Meet people in your organisation. Remember names and personal details. Tell stories about innovative things they did, records they beat, monumental obstacles they overcame. Look out for charming and human interest stories. Tell stories about yourself. Your people really want to get to know you. 

9) Anticipate fears 

What are your people most likely to be worried about? Ask them. Then address their fears in your videos. Be honest about your own fears. 

10) Be yourself 

SmartPhone videos are almost a new genre. You don’t have to dress up or talk in a posh voice. Wear normal work attire. Stand or sit, whatever makes you comfortable. Don’t project your voice and be larger than life, as if you were talking to thousands from a vast stage. You’re addressing your audience one at a time, as if having a chat with a friend. You don’t have to finger-point, shout or pretend to be a DJ, like the presenters of YouTube videos. Just be you. Informal and friendly. No long words or complex constructions. 

Be you. But remember ‘yes’ and ‘wow’ – the two most important words in English.  

Your audience must accept the logic of what you’re saying, and buy into it emotionally. They must be motivated and excited. Enjoy.