Not surprisingly, the speed of the coronavirus lockdown has resulted in communication missteps.
Even the Prime Minister has had some slips, according to the recently awarded New Zealand Communicator of the Year Nicole McKee.
Nicole believes the skill of communicating in challenging situations is to be adaptable and open to mistakes.
“The Government has made tough decisions quickly, so the Prime Minister needed to be upfront that mistakes were likely in the application of new rules.
“For example, the Government claimed there was enough protective equipment but the medical fraternity said there wasn’t; there were meant to be enough tests but actual testing numbers were claimed to be low; flu vaccines are available, but GPs said there were not enough.
“The PMs effectiveness as a good communicator was undermined by being too resolute on what should be happening, when the bureaucracy could not possibly deliver.”
While there has been confusion around some rules, several of the Government’s key messages have succeeded, such as the uptake of social distancing.
“’Stay home, save lives’ seems to have stuck with everyone,” says McKee. But its application in practice was subject to interpretation.
“The PM said you could go to the beach, but the Police said you can’t. ‘Don’t drive unnecessarily’ is another one, yet the Minister saying that drove his van to the bike park. Inconsistency is death to crisis communications.”
Civil Defence Director Sarah Stuart Black is someone McKee identified as having fronted well throughout the lockdown.
“She speaks slowly, clearly, and delivers her content well. She also speaks without too many fillers, rarely using ahhs and ums.”
Skills like this are all tricks the 2020 Communicator of the Year recommends to spokespeople facing scrutiny.
“Your job is to keep the masses calm. You can only do that if you are calm and confident yourself.
“However most importantly when you get home, thank your family and your better half because I find that it is them that keep me grounded and able to communicate effectively in trying times.”