Communication: authenticity in trying times

Red Shoe Communications provides tips on how industry leaders can communicate effectively in periods of uncertainty

Tough job: speeches have to be delivered with sincere eye contact, appropriate language and sincerity.

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 outbreak is thrusting industry leaders into the spotlight on a daily basis. Red Shoe Communications' managing director, Ms Kathy O'Brien, shared how senior leadership can provide effective communication in these uncertain times. The company was the 2019 gold winner of Best Employee Communications Training Provider by HRO.

"We're receiving calls from senior executives who have never needed to communicate in such an uncertain time before. They must reassure stakeholders, yet they themselves have deep concerns. Their big challenge is staying authentic while demonstrating strong leadership," said Ms O'Brien.

She stressed that leaders need to plan how they are personally communicating to key stakeholders as they battle disruptions. "It's natural to want to delegate uncomfortable meetings with business partners and employees. But now is the time when you need to be communicating at every opportunity. Your stakeholders need to see your face and hear the corporate message from the leader.

"When you stand before them in such a difficult time, you telegraph to them their value to the organisation and management's commitment. This is as true for a business partner as it is for your own staff. When should you speak?

"Since you are dealing with a steady flow of new information and a vast array of variables beyond your control, there is no perfect time for making a statement. You must bravely step out early and often, and say, 'this is what we know now'."

She said leaders will have to update the message the next day and for many tomorrows, but speaking transparently will earn trust. When stepping into the spotlight, they have to project their most sincere and effective self. Prior to that, they need to practise saying their talking points aloud and notice if they can deliver their message comfortably.  

"Do the sentences match your usual speaking pattern? If not, make this script more 'you'. Re‐phrase. You must speak naturally. 'Out loud' is crucial. Don't just read silently - it's no test for delivery.

"As you practise, deliberately pause before key words and give them extra vocal emphasis. Ask a colleague to listen and guide you on your pace. Get emotional," suggested Ms O'Brien.

Speeches have to be delivered with sincere eye contact, appropriate language and sincerity. Leaders can showcase an outstanding staff member, applaud the team's round‐the‐clock efforts or tell a personal story.

"You must completely forget yourself and your inconveniences. Remember the cautionary tale of Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP who, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, added these fateful words to his apology: 'I'd like my life back'. Global condemnation followed this seemingly selfish comment; and to this day it remains his most remembered moment.

"What are you thanking them for? For patiently listening to irate guests. For working double shifts. For accommodating endless cancellations. For supporting affected colleagues. For extra rounds of cleaning to keep surfaces germ‐free. For coming to work again today, despite their own fears. This is the time for them to see your face, hear your voice and receive a message from your heart."

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