Communicators in high-stakes and high-stress arenas often struggle to understand why audiences don’t seem to retain—or even hear—information that has been communicated to them.
Was the information not clear?
Is the audience willfully tuning it out?
Is something else at play?
Is the competition a factor?
Because the stakes for communicating effectively in high-stress situations are high, communicators are often left desperately searching for better ways to transmit information to target audiences.
Communicating in Times of Stress, High Concern, and Risk
Mental noise is often the culprit behind audiences’ failure to hear and understand your messages. But before you can get past this barrier, you have to first understand what is happening.
People who are stressed typically experience cognitive difficulties, including difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information. Situations and environments that present change, threats, and risks (real or perceived) create stress and fear.
Stress and fear can activate the brain’s ancient internal alarm system, triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response. When the brain’s alarm system is activated, people often experience mental noise.
Mental noise can significantly reduce a person’s ability to process information. Even in low-stress environments, the human brain is limited in the amount of information it can process before experiencing cognitive overload.
In low-stress situations, people can typically process seven to nine pieces of information before they experience cognitive overload and lose information.
In high-stress situations, people can typically process three to five pieces of information before they experience cognitive overload and lose information. Mental noise can reduce a person’s ability to process information in a high-stress situation by as much as 80 percent.
This bears repeating: Mental noise can reduce a person’s ability to process information in a high-stress situation by as much as 80 percent.
Mental noise has many implications, and people in risk, high-concern, and crisis situations will typically
• struggle to hear, process, and remember information
• process information at four grade levels below average education level of the group
• process information best when presented in small, easily digestible chunks or “bites”
• most easily recall information received first and last
• focus more on negative information than positive information
• pay greater attention to body language and nonverbal cues
• make judgments about strangers in as little as one to nine seconds
Tools and Techniques to Overcome Mental Noise
Fortunately, tools and techniques exist for helping communicators overcome this challenge. The following are just a few of the tools Dr. Vincent Covello details in the audio course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication:
• 27/9/3 tool
• Primary/recency tool
• AGL-4 tool
Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide
Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication 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, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, speaker, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.