On Monday 23 March, at 20:30 GMT, something historic happened. Almost half of the entire UK population sat down, simultaneously, to watch the Prime Minister announce an escalation in the country’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The short address attracted one of the biggest TV audiences in history. It proved that even in an age of infinite content and incessant white noise, critical communication from leaders remains the most powerful.
Survey after survey tells us that leaders can – and should – be the most trusted source of information, and that face to face is the most valued medium. So, while we’re living through a period of extreme compromise, the visibility of our leaders is more important now than it has ever been.
The success of leader communication is founded on two main dependencies: message and medium.
Messages need to be straightforward and tangible. In times of confusion and heightened anxiety, it is all the more important that audiences understand what your leader is saying – and what this means to every individual.
Messages need to be robust and authentic, backed by data and science, while delivered with gravitas, authority and empathy. It’s not an easy balance, but when struck, it provides reassurance and strengthens trust in your audience.
Rousing rhetoric alone may temporarily help people believe ‘we’ll get this done’, but hard facts are needed to turn messages into something more than pithy soundbites.
Medium, in a period of widespread remote working, would have been previously problematic. Obviously actual face-to-face is out of the question, so video becomes the obvious alternative.
Here, choice can be one of the biggest hurdles. There are dozens of off the shelf platforms and solutions. Many IC teams will already be using one. Others will find current circumstances dictate they need to find one for the first time, at pace.
Whatever platform is chosen, the ability to ask questions, even in text form, and have these answered, adds a vital dimension of interaction.
It’s also important to capture feedback, checking people’s knowledge and feelings before and after a broadcast. And recording the broadcast and making it available for people later is also crucial, especially in companies working across different time zones and shift patterns.
Raw and authentic beats polished.
Modern tech negates the need for expensive recording or editing equipment. Leaders are simply able to sit in front of their laptops in a brightly lit room and press play. The authenticity of them, sitting in a home study or at a dining table, adds a level of powerful camaraderie that even the most expensive solution cannot provide.
So, it’s incumbent on us as IC communicators to consider what we know is best practice and provide our leaders with the mechanics and motivation to speak directly to our audiences. When we emerge from where we currently are, people will remember that evening they sat with bated breath watching Boris Johnson tell them not to leave their homes.
The melee we are among may encourage us to switch to a default global email update, but that does our profession, our organisations, our leaders and our people a disservice.
Stepping out of the realm of company-wide emails can feel like you’re entering a brave new world –especially when you quickly need an effective, impactful collaborative solution.
We asked our head of digital, Tony Stewart, for a roundup of the most common platforms and how they can help get your leaders visible online.
Workplace includes live commenting and sentiment sharing – much like their Facebook Live product. It’s intuitive platform that anyone in the business can set up.
This means engaging Town Halls, as the presenter gets immediate, non-disruptive feedback. Workplace automatically saves the session, which can then be re-shared when needed or downloaded for use elsewhere.
After downloading a free app Zoom allows multiple presenters to communicate at once. Be aware that without paying for a licenced version of the platform, quality can vary, streams last no longer than 40 minutes and doesn’t allow recording of the session.
Presenters using Teams require the Teams app, but viewers just need access to a desktop-based browser.
With an enterprise license, you can host live events for thousands of viewers. Sessions can also be recorded and stored on Microsoft’s Stream platform for distribution and downloading.
Hangouts is free and quick to set up, so there’s a correlating hit to quality. As Hangouts is in the public domain, anyone with a link can access your broadcast – so it may be better suited to externally-facing events.
Like its Microsoft and Facebook counterparts, Hangouts allows sessions to be recorded and downloaded from YouTube seamlessly.