Dos and Don’ts for policy messages


Many businesses are having to write to employees, suppliers and customers with messages around your COVID19 policy and actions. It can feel overwhelming, having to communicate in a way, or about a subject, you’re not familiar with. Here’s a quick reminder of some basic Dos and Don’ts – they apply to all communication, and will help make sure that your message about your business’ response to the current situation is clear, concise and compassionate.

Do – put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Think about what they need to know, as your employees, customers or suppliers. Address the issues that are going to be uppermost in their minds, not yours.

Do – share expert information. Don’t feel that you have to be the expert in every aspect of the message you are communicating. Share information from Government websites or other expert sources. It actually enhances your credibility if you provide information from those more knowledgeable than you are.

Do – say the most important things first. Provide a summary of what the message is about, why they need to understand it and what they need to do. Then go down into the detail. By showing them the value of your message in the first few sentences, you’ll increase the chances that they’ll read on for the detail.

Do – connect. You are talking to people, who have fears, anxieties and concerns. Even if you are creating a written message for a group audience, think about it as if you were talking to one person, face to face. Show empathy, show your human side – a robotic communication has no authenticity and loses impact.

Do – be really clear about what you are asking people to do. No-one reacts to vague instructions, and the more precise you can be, the more likely people are to comply with your requests.

Do – use simple words and short sentences. It’s hard to read a long block of unbroken text. Everyday words, short sentences, short paragraphs, sub-headings and bullet points make your information far more digestible.

Don’t – use complex, technical or medical language. It’s easy to feel that you sound more knowledgeable or authoritative if you do so, but in fact the opposite is true. If you use language that everyone understands, you are perceived as knowing more.

Don’t – make statements that you cannot back up. We’re in a situation that is changing by the day, so it’s even more important to stick to the facts, as known at the time.

Don’t – be afraid to say you don’t know. No-one expects you to have all the answers – saying you don’t know, but you are working on finding out, is way better than making assumptions or guesses.

Even a couple of weeks ago, no-one foresaw having to write these messages. Use the tips above to ensure that your COVID-19 message connects just as clearly with your audience as the rest of your business communications.

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