One of the world’s leading authorities on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication, Dr. Vincent Covello has shared research-based lessons in his craft with thousands of students during his storied career.

The following are nine lessons on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication, with a lesson drawn from each of the nine modules in Dr. Covello’s video-based course, Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

(While Dr. Covello continues to host live training sessions and advise private and government agencies on communication issues, he assembled his video-based course in response to requests from around the world to make his expertise more readily accessible.)

Lesson 1: People in risk situations typically have difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information.

From “Module 1: The Foundation of Risk Communication,” this lesson is one of the key messages of the course. Because the rules for communication change during risk situations, communicators must change their approach if they are to effectively convey information.

Lesson 2: Messages in high-stress and high-concern situations should initially be kept short and simple.

From “Module 2: Theories, Tools, and Special Topics,” this lesson emphasizes that constructing and delivering effective messages in high-stress and high-concern situations is radically different from constructing and delivering effective messages in low-stress and low-concern situations.

Lesson 3: Trust is the single-most-important filter through which information about risks and threats passes.

From “Module 3: Trust Determination,” this lesson is heightened by the reality that trust is easily lost and, once lost, is difficult to regain.

Lesson 4: In high-stress situations, people can typically process three to five pieces of information before they experience cognitive overload and lose information.

From “Module 4: Mental Noise,” this lesson will serve as a useful tool in determining the most important information to share. Mental noise can reduce a person’s ability to process information in a high-stress situation by as much as 80 percent, so communicators should adjust accordingly.

Lesson 5: The human brain is more sensitive to communications about negatives and losses than to communications about positives and gains of equal value.

From “Module 5: Negative Dominance,” this lesson is another important consideration for communications. Keep in mind that negative communication is typically given two or three times greater weight than a positive communication in high-concern situations.

Lesson 6: People will often accept risks or threats as much as 1,000 times greater if they are voluntary and perceived to be under their personal control.

From “Module 6: Risk Perceptions,” this lesson provides a vital insight into audience thinking. It is also important to understand that people will often accept risks as much as 1,000 times greater if they perceive the activity that generates the risk or threat to be clearly beneficial.

Lesson 7: Message maps allow communicators to quickly and concisely deliver information.

From “Module 7: Message Maps,” this lesson puts forth the idea that message maps are one of the most important tools available to communicators in high-concern situations. The steps for creating message maps are detailed in this module.

Lesson 8: Beliefs largely determine what is perceived as true or false.

From “Module 8: Cultural Diversity,” this is an important consideration when communicating across cultures. Cultural competency requires risk, high-concern, and crisis communicators to recognize their own cultural beliefs, values, and biases and to develop an in-depth understanding of the culture of interest.

Lesson 9: Nonverbal communications can provide more than 75 percent of message content related to trust.

From “Module 9: Nonverbal & Visual,” this lesson underscores the importance of nonverbal communications, with nonverbal information enhancing or diminishing the chances that information will be heard, understood, and trusted.

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.

Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.


Covello, V. T. (2009). Strategies for overcoming challenges to effective risk communication. Heath, R. & O’Hare, D., eds., Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.