How Not to Communicate Critical Information

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Summary:

My husband and I recently took a cruise. I didn't board the ship in search of blog topics, but I found them nevertheless.

As is customary on cruises, shortly before departure, the crew held a safety drill so we'd know what to do if the ship was going to tipple, topple or sink. To run the drill, they gathered the 3000 passengers into small groups at assigned locations, with a crew member on hand to serve as each group's demo-meister.

My husband and I recently took a cruise. I didn't board the ship in search of blog topics, but I found them nevertheless. As is customary on cruises, shortly before departure, the crew held a safety drill so we'd know what to do if the ship was going to tipple, topple or sink. To run the drill, they gathered the 3000 passengers into small groups at assigned locations, with a crew member on hand to serve as each group's demo-meister.

Over a loudspeaker, the drill master—whom I'll call Sven, in honor of the captain of the ship being Swedish—gave the safety announcement. But he didn't start by urging people to turn off their cell phones and other gadgetry. One girl in our group gabbed on her phone till several of us shut her down.

Recommendation #1: If information is truly critical, begin by emphasizing its critical nature and urging everyone to pay attention. Sven said that in the event of a need to evacuate the ship, we'd hear a sound consisting of seven short blasts and one long blast.

Recommendation #2: In a matter of potential urgency, don't just tell people what they will hear; demonstrate it by—in this instance—sounding the blasts. We needed to internalize the sound. We shouldn't be in a position of hearing some toots and hoots while in mid-ocean and wondering if it's the emergency signal or just a signal that ice cream is being served on Deck 12. Next came the demonstration of how to put on the safety vest. I, being less than the tallest person in the world, couldn't see a thing. But I wasn't alone. Shockingly, our demo-meister had directed numerous tall people in our group to stand up front.

Recommendation #3: If you're communicating critical visual information, do it in a way that people can actually see it. Afterwards, I asked a demo-meister to demo the safety vest for me. At the end of the drill, I thought Sven would repeat the information about the warning signal as a reminder. He didn't.

Recommendation #4: In a matter of life or glub-glub-glub, repeat critical information. While in our stateroom during the cruise, I occasionally heard the muted sound of what I determined, after several such occurrences, was an announcement made over a loudspeaker. The announcement was audible in the public areas but from inside I couldn't hear it except by opening the door and poking my head out. Was this how the warning blast would be sounded?

Recommendation #5: If you're communicating critical auditory information, do in a way that people can actually hear it. In situations of potential emergencies that could be catastrophic but are unlikely to occur, those who serve customers walk a fine line between explaining too much and too little. But it does seem that people often fall short in how they communicate critical information. Does any of your information dissemination bear re-examining? 

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User Comments

2 comments
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

This is a wonderful post. The things given are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.

September 10, 2010 - 3:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Thanks so much, Vernon. I sent the link to this blog to the cruise company and asked to be notified that it had been read and forwarded to appropriate personnel. It's almost a month and I haven't heard back. I'll be surprised (and pleased) if I do. ~Naomi

September 10, 2010 - 3:19pm

About the author

Naomi Karten's picture Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a highly experienced speaker and seminar leader who draws from her psychology and IT backgrounds to help organizations improve customer satisfaction, manage change, and strengthen teamwork. She has delivered seminars and keynotes to more than 100,000 people internationally. Naomi's newest books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Her other books and ebooks include Managing Expectations, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them, and How to Survive, Excel and Advance as an Introvert. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions & Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. She is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com. When not working, Naomi's passion is skiing deep powder. Contact her at naomi@nkarten.com or via her Web site, www.nkarten.com.

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