The Indian PM Narendra Modi delivered a 29-minute address on 24th March 2020 urging the nation to observe a 21-day lockdown.
I have dissected his speech to derive leadership communication lessons that you can apply at the workplace and beyond.
My dear fellow citizens,
Today, once again, I am in your midst to discuss Corona Global Pandemic.”
While it was clear that the PM would speak on this topic, it is essential for a leader to emphasise and define the goal of the address. This helps establish a solid foundation to give the audience a reason to listen to the address.
“On 22nd March, we took the resolution of Janata-Curfew. As a nation, every Indian contributed with full responsibility and sensitivity to ensure its success. Children-elders, big-small, poor-middle class- upper class, everyone came together in this hour of crisis.
Every Indian made Janata-Curfew a success.
Through one day of Janata-Curfew, India proved that at the time of crisis befalling our nation, at the time of crisis befalling humanity, how each and every Indian comes together to put forth united efforts to deal with it. All of you deserve praise for ensuring the success of Janata-Curfew.”
The PM understands that his address is preceded by anxiety and inquisitively. By praising the efforts of the people and drawing on their sense of humanity and nationalism, he began the speech on a positive note to help his audience achieve a neutral state.
Once the audience is on your side and feels recognised, it is then easier for the leader to drive his key points.
Size of the problem
“All of you are also witnessing how the most advanced countries of the world have been rendered absolutely helpless by this pandemic.It is not that these countries are not putting in adequate efforts or they lack resources.
The Coronavirus is spreading at such a rapid pace that despite all the preparations and efforts, these countries are finding it hard to manage the crisis.”
“It took 67 days for the count of people infected with Corona to reach the 1st one lakh all over the world.
After this, it took only 11 days for another one lakh people to get infected.
Think, it took 67 days for it to infect one lakh people at first, but only 11 days to reach a total of two lakh people.
This is even more alarming that it took only 4 days for this disease to reach three lakh people from the count of two lakh.
You can imagine how rapidly Coronavirus spreads.
Once it begins to spread, it is very difficult to contain it.”
It is important for the leader to define the size of the problem. The size of a problem can be defined through:
For an address to an audience this large, it is also essential that the data is absolutely elementary so that it can be easily assimilated. The PM used all of the above points to ensure the size of his problem was absorbed adequately.
Call to Action
“From midnight tonight onwards, the entire country, please listen carefully, the entire country shall go under complete lockdown.In order to protect the country, and each of its citizens, from midnight tonight, a full ban is being imposed on people from stepping out of their homes.
All the States in the country, all the Union Territories, each district, each municipality, each village, each locality is being put under lockdown.
This is like a curfew only.
This will be a few levels more than Janata-Curfew, and also stricter.
This is a necessary step in the decisive fight against Corona Pandemic.
The nation will have to certainly pay an economic cost because of this lockdown.Hence, It is my plea to you to continue staying wherever you are right now in the country.
Considering the circumstances at present, this lockdown will last 21 days.”
The PM’s 29-minute speech boiled down to one simple call to action: Stay at home for 21 days. Many leaders have speeches with too many things to do, lot of data, requests and statements. However, a good speech will penetrated through the fog of sentences to deliver one clear, succinct message.
“Considering the circumstances at present, this lockdown will last 21 days.The next 21 days are of critical importance for us.
As per health experts, a period of at least 21 days is extremely critical to break infection chain of Coronavirus. If situation is not handled in these 21 days, the country and your family could go back 21 years.
If situation is not handled in these 21 days, several families will get devastated forever.
Hence, you must forget what going out means for the next 21 days.
Stay inside your home, stay inside your home, and do just one thing- stay inside your home.”
The PM said the words “21 days” for seven times in less that 100 seconds. Some may argue that having said it once would make it clear, however, it would not press upon the audience the importance of a message like this. Further, repetition followed by explanation of the reasoning of the call to action ensures better implementation of the same.
Visual aids and humanisation
“There is one banner that I also liked, which I would like all of you to see.
Corona, i.e., Koi Road pe Na Nikle (no one should go out on the road)”
The visual aid in the form of a simple banner and the clear read-aloud by the PM ensured that the message was delivered to people of every age and education background. Further, by bringing in personalisation, the PM stepped down from the leadership pedestal to become more relatable to the people.
How could the address have been more effective?
Length of the speech
The speech was 29 minutes long with four distinct sections:
- Thanking the people
- Highlighting the threat
- Call to action
- Steps taken by the government
While the matter was of utmost importance, the message could have been concised and delivered in 15 minutes or less. A longer speech dilutes the importance of the speech when the message itself talks about essence of time.
In the previous speech, the PM had highlighted that essential goods and services will be available. However, the point was completely skipped in this speech. People thronged the stores to grab more than they needed and god-forbid if few of these were already infected, the 21-day day time lock-down essentially got defeated before it even began.
A formal Government circular followed with this explanation, however, when the leader himself says it – it makes all the difference.
As a leader, you need to walk the tight rope of highlighting importance but reducing panic. More often than not, the leaders are able to pull off just one of these.
How can you apply these techniques in mass-communications with your clients and teams?
Let me know!