In mid-August, I got an email from my dad saying his office building had been destroyed by a fire. A few weeks later, my partner had a serious allergic reaction that required him to be admitted to the hospital. These events got me thinking about the art of finding the right words after something has gone wrong, better known in PR circles as crisis communications.
What’s the first thing we do after a crisis? Increasingly, we send an email. We put out a press release. Words are the tool we use to tell people what happened.
My dad sent an email to his clients to explain where and how his business would continue operating. I sent an email to my partner’s family to let them know we were at the hospital.
Whether it is a personal emergency or an organizational one, it's not easy to find the right words. There is a lot to consider. The next time you have to break some bad news over an email or in a blog post, ask yourself these five questions:
- are you in the appropriate headspace? Emergencies are stressful. If your pulse is racing or you feel really emotional about the topic, give yourself a minute and take a few deep breaths before you write anything.
- what is the appropriate tone? Consider how sober your writing should be. Ask yourself if what you've said and the way you've said it is likely to cause panic.
- what happens next? Should your audience do anything, or not?
- what questions will your audience have? What do they want to know? Pre-emptively addressing as many of their concerns as possible will reduce panic and prevent you from having to respond to follow-up questions.
- are there legal sensitivities to be respected? If so, consider getting a lawyer’s opinion before you hit send or publish anything.
Crises are no fun. Telling others about them is not much fun either, but it’s often necessary. The next time you need to find the right words in a time of crisis, ask yourself my five questions and you’ll do a great job at keeping everyone up-to-date.
PS - Want to know what words shouldn't appear in your crisis communications? Sign up for my newsletter to receive my free cheatsheet with 50 words to cut from your writing.