Part 1 in my series of blogs about coronavirus communications. To begin, I reflect on how my organisation has responded to cancelled speeches and what we might do to replace those engagements during this period of social distancing.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about “how to repurpose content and give your speech an afterlife.” The post outlined how to recycle a speech for different channels so that it reaches an audience greater than those who heard it on delivery.

Now, in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and with most in-person events cancelled, leaders who previously used speeches as their main communications channel might find themselves at a loss.

What follows is my advice to speechmakers and speechwriters about how they might replace speeches with other communications during this crisis. These adjustments might turn out to be good practice for communicating in what will surely be a changed landscape once this crisis subsides.

Turn your speech into a letter

If you have already drafted a speech for an event now cancelled, consider top-and-tailing it to become a letter that can be sent by email to the cancelled event’s attendees. In contrast to video and regular email, letters have an aura of formality and authority.

However, you need to ask yourself (a) whether the content of your speech is still relevant and (b) whether that content reflects current priorities.

In times of crisis, we don’t want official and evidence-based messaging to be competing with less immediately relevant communications. True leaders will recognise that there is a time to defer to others.

Deliver a video message

If you are the leader of a large organisation, your staff will look to you for clarity about how they will be affected by the crisis. Your coronavirus communications are crucial. Where you might previous have held a town hall meeting, consider instead a video message.

A few considerations:

  • More people will see the video than just your primary audience. It will be shared. In case it ever reaches the media, ensure your messaging is suitable for external broadcast. If you live-stream it, great, but make sure there’s a version that people can access later.
  • The average attention span is debated, but there’s consensus that it’s short. Keep the video brief and top-loaded – that is, include your three key messages right at the start before distraction gets the better of your viewers.
  • Make sure that the video isn’t too amateurish, nor too slick. Convey authenticity by shooting the message on your phone, but make sure it isn’t so wobbly or informal as to distract from what you’re saying.

There’s also the question of how you might share a video message. It could be uploaded to your intranet, emailed out, or – if it’s more client/customer-focussed – released via social media.

Condense your speech into an online statement

Although a letter allows you to maintain a narrative, many speeches can be condensed down to three key messages. These might most effectively be conveyed in a statement on, say, your homepage or in an email. You’ll notice that nearly every website you visit at present contains a statement of this type.

Some considerations if you condense your speech or messaging into an online statement:

  • Be brief and to-the-point
  • Be consistent in messaging and terminology
  • Utilise the format (include hyperlinks, bold type, analytics, etc.)

The New Normal

However you choose to communicate during self-isolation and social distancing, use this period to hone your digital skills. There’s agreement around here that the coronavirus crisis will fundamentally change how things are done. Video conferencing, livestreaming, and remote working are soon to become more mainstream than they were before this crisis. Time for communicators to be ready.