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The shocking truth about getting your messages across 13 March 2020

Could you believe what you were hearing?

“Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” 

I watched the Prime Minister’s body language carefully.  He looked uncomfortable, Union Flags at his side, reporters with microphones and pens poised before him.  This didn’t look rehearsed.  It sounded real. 

It struck me for two reasons. 

First, because of the sheer power of the statement.  Who could not be taken aback by the twelve words Boris Johnson had just uttered?  It’s no coincidence that those very words appeared on the front page of at least five national newspapers the next morning.

But I was also struck, as a journalist, by something else.  These words, delivered in a traditional news conference, were simple and honest.  As a result, I believed them. They had impact on me, and they may well have forced me to reassess my own personal response to the Covid 19 pandemic. 

It’s a sad truth of much newsgathering that News Conferences are often conducted in code rather than with clarity.  A reporter asks a question (sometimes a rambling question that’s too clever by half), and a politician replies with an answer that is either no answer at all, or that is designed to be vague.  

The answer may of course still appear on websites within the hour, or on the radio and tv later that day, but it may shed little light on the story.  Reporter and politician will have done what they do, motions gone through, ready for the next story, the next day. 

The PM used another phrase that hit me: “I must level with you.” 

He used words that were hard-to-hear: “crisis”, “suffering”, “dangerous”.

Do you level with your staff when you communicate with them?  Do you use the hard-to-hear words, as well as the upbeat ones?  

If you don’t, then maybe you’re not really communicating with them at all.


If you’d like to freshen up internal communications in your workplace, my No Bull Newsroom workshop might fit the bill. It’s fast, it’s effective, and it’s fun.

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