Clear, concise communication is more important than ever during a fast-moving situation.
Now is not the time to find your inner-Shakespeare, nor is it the time to hide important information or put your head in the sand.
Be straightforward, honest and unambiguous in what you say and how you say it.
Try to avoid using too many clichés if you can. It’s difficult – there are a few littered around this website and my emails. But words and phrases like ‘unprecedented’, ‘we find ourselves in’, ‘challenging times’ are everywhere at the moment. Do your best to avoid them.
Don’t pepper your writing with needless additions. ‘It is our belief’, ‘as you are aware’, ‘it goes without saying’. Almost any sentence with something like this in would work better without it.
A real-world example
I’ve been working with clients over the last couple of weeks to help them get their message across in exactly this way. To avoid accusations of commercialism / favouritism, here’s an example of something I’ve written for free – I am race director for our local town’s 10k run, which we have had to cancel.
The message we put out was well-received: clear enough to get the message across, detailed enough to mean we got no follow-up questions.
You can read it in full here, but let’s break it down…
Part 1: the introduction
Evesham Town 10k 2020 – Cancellation Notice
With regret we are cancelling Evesham Town 10k this year, July 5th 2020.
Note it is cancelled, not postponed – we will return in 2021.
The headline gives you the fundamental information: the event, and its cancellation. The next two sentences confirm the date it was due to run (it’s important people don’t stumble across these pages in future years and misunderstand). For added clarity, and to remove the need for questions, we state it won’t be moved to later in the year.
Part 2: the reasoning
Why we are cancelling
The 10k was not due to take place until July, which is a long while away. We desperately wanted to put the event on, but events are overtaking us.
We have made this decision for a number of reasons:
A lot of the criticism and complaints levelled at businesses over the last few weeks – and at other times – is because they have been unclear, vague or even deceitful.
By detailing the reasons for the decision to cancel so far in advance of the race, we helped people to understand our point of view – and the fact there are real people (and in this case, volunteers) behind the event.
Part 3: the individuals
Approximately 90 people have entered so far – we have not yet incurred any significant costs, but have decided on the following:
Option 1: Donate – the default option
Recognise that your decisions and actions have an impact on your customers. See things from their point of view – what do they want, what do they need?
One of the poorer examples of this I have seen was a property letting agency who emailed all of their tenants giving details of how they were looking after their staff, office closures etc. – without once mentioning what to do if the recipient was worried about paying their rent.
We were very clear about our refund policy, and what to do if you wanted your money back. Contact details right there in the text – no clicking away or having to look-up information. We were also clear about charges and costs, and what would be refunded.
Part 4: more information
If you still have any questions, please do get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll get back to you as soon as we can, but please be aware we have a lot to deal with right now.
Acknowledge and accept you can’t be perfect and cover everything. Make it easy for people to get in touch if they have any questions or worries, and manage their expectations if you anticipate there will be any delay in getting back to them.