THE ADVOCATE 31
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
when people are anxious and fearful, they are even less receptive to large
amounts of complicated information. Simple, clear messages are key. Dr.
Henry and her communications team understand this. They recognize that
their job is to make it easier for people to pay attention, understand, care
To accomplish this, they developed messages that clarify, simplify and
make it easier for people to process complex information. The public messages
• Avoid crowded places, and practise physical distancing by keeping
two metres away from one another.
• If you are sick, stay home and limit your contact with others.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least sixty per
• Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
These are repeated daily at every news conference.
Research shows that repetition makes a message more persuasive,
noticeable and agreeable. The CDC’s Field Epidemiology Manual recommends
that health emergency spokespersons use a “single overriding
health communications objective” that they repeat frequently, especially at
the beginning and end of all public communications.11
Dr. Henry repeats the message “Be kind, be calm, be safe” as if she were
saying it for the first time. She understands that repetition helps her to do
her job, which is to help the public understand. She knows it’s not about her;
it’s about public safety. People see that she cares, and that builds trust and
Without trust, there is no communication. Canadians trust scientists, academics
and medical doctors. Dr. Henry and her team coordinated communications
with public health officials and academics from across Canada.
Canadians also trust people they know, such as co-workers, friends and family.
The well-crafted messages of Dr. Henry did a good job of building trust
with these groups. According to Ed Maibach, the best test of a science-based
message “is whether members of the target audience are willing and able to
convey the message to the family, friends, and co-workers. Ultimately, that
should be the aim of our communication—to motivate and enable members
of our target audience to share our messages with one another”.12
The empathy and openness we see from Dr. Henry build the trust that
leads people to accept a message and act on it. Empathy requires an understanding
of how people perceive the situation. It is difficult to show empa-