Imagine being handed a diagnosis that made you question everything, including the job you have been doing every day for over a decade.
For more than 10 years, Suzanne Edmond had been working at an elite level in corporate communications, dealing with crises where reputations were on the line.
All of a sudden, she was presented with a diagnosis which left her with a crisis of her own, and left her concerned for her own reputation.
She was dyslexic.
“I didn’t find out I was dyslexic until I was in my early thirties,” she told Business Bulletin.
“It drove my love of storytelling, spurred my creative thinking, and enabled me to always see the big picture. I was often accused of rushing or jumping to the end, but really, I was just joining the dots in a different order.
“True, my spelling and grammar lack finesse, and my memory recall for facts rarely gets me invites to pub quizzes. However, by understanding my strengths and weaknesses, I was able to develop the perseverance to overcome both.
“However, I was lucky. I had an amazing coach who identified my dyslexia and supported me throughout. I was even luckier to then work in an organisation where people were encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. Not everyone is.
“If sharing my story helps inspire even one person to recognise, embrace and celebrate their dyslexic thinking, then it's worth it.”
Her inspirational story is one of achievement, and Suzanne has worked in some of the most high-profile, and high-pressured, roles in her industry.
During five years as Director of Communications at the UK Government during Brexit and the CV19 pandemic, she operated within an organisation which was in a perpetual state of crisis.
She has also worked for some of the biggest companies in the FTSE 100, including Shell and Centrica. So how do you stay calm - and communicate clearly - when chaos is all around you?
On August 25, Suzanne will host a masterclass in crisis communication at Aberdeen Arts Centre as part of the Chamber’s Ultimate Masterclass Festival, in association with TotalEnergies.
Ahead of the event – which is being sponsored by Aspect – we asked Suzanne to share some tips:
Can you describe some of the high-pressure comms situations you have worked in?
“Gosh, where to start! I spent the first half of my career planning for crises, mainly in the oil and gas sector for Shell and Centrica Energy International, then the more recent part managing them. I’ve led the communications response to several crises, including for the collapse of Thomas Cook and FlyBe, where we were able to prepare to some extent about how to handle it.
“Ones that struck entirely out of the blue stick in the mind, like drones at Gatwick and the unexpected closure of the UK-French border in Christmas 2020. As do ones that are better defined as permacrisis, like managing domestic and international travel restrictions during CV19.
“I promise I’m not a bad omen…”
What do you think are the key things people need to do when dealing with crisis communications?
“There are three things that I believe are critical to leading during a crisis: calm, control, and compassion.
“Being calm is key, however you may feel inside, because otherwise things can very quickly escalate in high-pressured situations. That’s especially true when dealing with your team and Executive Committee, Board or – as it was in my case for many years – the Government’s COBRA meetings.
“Showing you’re in control will reassure others. Having a clear plan helps, and the better prepared you are the easier this part is to execute. So, it’s hugely important to prioritise regularly reviewing, updating, and exercising your crisis communications plan.
“Finally, while we often must adopt a more command and control approach in a crisis, forget compassion at your peril. Leading communications in a crisis is very similar to any other time, just magnified. You need a clear strategy, a great team to deliver it and that extra ingredient that makes people want to go the extra mile to deliver it with/for you.”
What are the most common mistakes you see in crisis communications?
“Losing sight of the big picture. While checklists can provide helpful prompts, it’s far more important to stand back, take a deep breath and look at the big picture of what’s going on.
“I’ve seen leaders crumble due to lack of sleep, reluctance to delegate and losing their perspective as a result. A crisis doesn’t need a superhero, it needs a justice league! (*other franchises are available).
“However, the biggest risk, is storing up problems for the future. You can become so focused on managing the incident at hand, that sometimes you can miss something even bigger on the horizon. If you want to hear the worst mistake I ever made on that front, you can ask me when I’m up in August….”
What can neurodivergence bring to an organisation?
“When neurodiversity is recognised and properly supported, it brings with it a wealth of creativity and new perspectives. When it’s not, and I speak from experience here, it slowly erodes away your confidence and leaves you struggling on tasks that you’re not necessarily best suited for. That also means that organisations miss out on the many talents that neurodiverse people have.
“We need to embrace diversity and inclusion in its widest sense and learn from each other, as that’s the only way we can all make the most of our potential as individuals and help build the best possible teams.
“I founded my business, Moxy Communications, on the belief that dyslexic think can help us find the creative solutions to today’s unprecedented communications challenges. And let’s be honest, we have a lot to contend with right now, so the more diverse ideas the better.
“Besides, some of the best inventions we have today were the product of dyslexic thinking.”
Tickets for Don’t Panic: How to communicate in a crisis are available now and can be purchased at umf.events