Presidents On The Front Lines

This CHE webinar is a Must-Listen.

I’m webinar-ed out and I’m sure you are, too. I tend to drop-out after roughly five minutes after dropping in.

But not this one.

Earlier this week, The Chronicle of Education’s “Communicating During a Pandemic” set a high bar with a virtual forum moderated by CHE’s senior editor, Alex Kafka. He hosted a five-star panel of college presidents and faculty in a far-reaching discussion of the challenges of higher ed crisis communications in the pandemic era. It was a refreshing and very real opportunity to hear these college presidents talk candidly about the trials, tribulations, and opportunities they faced during this most difficult year…

I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

Here are some of my key take-aways:

  1. Like all of their peers, they were completely unprepared for the pandemic’s onslaught. As COVID surged, no amount of existing emergency or communications planning sufficed.
  2. Each struggled with how to minimize potential panic.
  3. There was agreement that smaller colleges did the best job of communicating with their communities. They noted the ability to engage on a personal level — i.e., sending handwritten notes, walking around campus, asking people how they were doing; sending music, poems, and targeted video messages.
  4. Several cited the benefits of establishing a dedicated mailbox with which to solicit and assess pain points.
  5. Noted periods of update fatigue, and found that short, to-the-point statements were more effective than lengthy updates.
  6. Made the ubiquitous FAQ a go-to resource.
  7. Reinforced their institution’s reputation and value: “We’ve weathered storms before and together we will again…”
  8. Held themselves ultimately accountable. Words were not enough. All were committed to translating thought into measurable actions.
  9. Grappled with how to balance the dual needs of transparency and reassurance.
  10. Were reminded that communications could no longer be an afterthought; to be effective it has to be a senior leadership function with a permanent seat at the cabinet table.

And there is much more to learn from these battle-tested leaders.

This Chronicle of Higher Ed webinar is well worth your time.