The art of communicating in a chaotic world

Do you ever feel like there’s just too much information in the world, coming at you from all angles and you don’t know who or what to believe? Or are you a comms pro who’s been tasked with delivering a message but has been overwhelmed by the number of channels available and the sheer amount of noise you need to cut through?

It’s exhausting, for everyone on both sides of the relationship. So what can we do to make it better?

In the rush to try the ‘new thing’, it’s easy to forget about the core purpose of any communications activity: to deliver the right information, at the right time and – most crucially – to the right people.

So when you’re feeling overwhelmed, strip back the brief to the most important factor – your audience. What do they need to know from you?

And if you start thinking “well my key messages are X,Y and Z,” stop, and think about what I’ve just asked. What do the people you’re talking to need? What information can you give them to make their lives better, easier, help them deal with the world right now in the middle of a pandemic… Not what do you need. What do they need.

In the last six months I’ve seen examples of organisations that communicate well, and examples of those who haven’t. And for the latter category, the unifying factor always seems to be that they think about what they want to say first, and about the people they’re saying it to second – if at all. And then they’re surprised that there’s a backlash, or confusion, or they’re ignored.

Go to your stakeholder list (you do have a stakeholder list, right) and methodically work through it, working out what information all these groups needs from you right now. Get all your senior leaders to look at the list, and make sure you haven’t left anyone out. Have you remembered you’ll need to communicate to your staff? Your suppliers?

Once you’ve worked that out, think about the simplest possible way you can share the information you need to. Now is not the time to be clever-clever – information overload is real and people’s brains are too full to process too many words or some subtle but unclear artwork. Make it accessible in terms of language and visuals.

Work out which channels you’re using for each stakeholder group. Make sure your messaging is clear and consistent across all your channels. And provide your customer-facing staff with an FAQ – people are probably the most important information channel of all. If your channels are all aligned, then you are more trustworthy. But if people are hearing different messages from different areas of your business, they will stop trusting you as the source and seek their information elsewhere, from channels which you have no control over.

Once you’ve put your message out, monitor it. How are people reacting? Have you been clear enough or do you need to make changes? Don’t just presume that everything is fine and everyone understands – make sure of it.

Finally, remember to give yourself space to think – don’t just react without being strategic. In the heat of the moment it can be tempting to say the first thing that comes to mind, or copy what everyone else is doing. Take a moment to pause, breathe, and check that what you’re doing is right for your business and your audience. Make the first thing you say good, and you’ll be remembered for the right reasons.

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