Emmanuel Macron's speech: how to announce bad news to the French?

Taking advantage of the few hours of respite before a possible reconfinement, I wandered this morning between two meetings in a worried Paris. Two men in their forties, dark suits and ties, then came out of their glassed-in offices: “What do you think he’s going to tell us tonight? The containment, I can’t believe it!” announces the first man to venture outside, dubiously. The second answers him sad and jaded: “well yes, we have to see the situation …”. Two friends are chatting not far around the corner: “Ah it’s Sophie! She tells me that she is stocking up on flour and day cream”. The sentence could lead to a smile if it did not express the degree of anxiety of a population who suspects the content of the upcoming announcement: the closing of stores and its share of irrational behavior. In just a few hours, the Head of State will address the Nation gathered for the occasion in front of his television screens. Unsurprisingly, it will likely announce a re-containment. In other words, new days of confinement for a population that came out groggy from this prison time in May. A complicated decision to present to the French who we know already affected emotionally, economically, socially by the crisis generated by this uncontrollable virus. In a context of mistrust, even in a period of calm, communication from the Élysée is still communication of crisis, how to present the news to the French?

1Deliver an empathetic message: “I know the situation is extremely difficult”

Confidence always precedes a crisis. She will rarely be born thanks to it. It is generally because the climate of trust preexists that it is possible to reassure public opinion. In the current chaotic context, it is rather time for mistrust, we will understand. knows it. He also knows that as Head of State he is the person to whom the Nation turns to understand the issues and the course to follow. Before even speaking out on the substance of the measures taken, to be audible and therefore listened to, he must deliver an empathetic message to the French. He must show that he understands and recognizes their suffering, their anxieties as well as the efforts already made. By taking a few “archetypal” examples to illustrate his point: the case of elderly people who are even more isolated than usual or even that of the self-employed who suffer from the economic violence of the situation. Nursing staff, everyday heroes, already exhausted since the first confinement. Those for whom the pain of the time of confinement is added that of the little space.

2Show that the decision is inescapable: “The virus is progressing dramatically in France, as everywhere in Europe”

In this second part of the speech it will be a question of making it understood that the choices which are today those of the president, supported by his government, are inevitable in view of the current situation in France and in Europe. It will be a question of giving his version of the story by sharing the first verified, verifiable and updated facts. This is the “disease spread curve” point. The international examples and measures taken by the governments of other countries will then serve to support the approach envisaged to enter the field of rationality. No, this decision is not just that of the Head of State: “we are all concerned” we risk hearing. All over Europe, measures are being taken in the same direction to try to slow the progression of this terrible virus before a vaccine is found. will also not fail to communicate on the actions that have been taken, the effects of the first measures taken, to communicate on the existing systems to try to stem the effects of this pandemic. Before coming back to the specific point of the schools and explaining why the latter will probably remain open to allow the French to telework.

3Appeal to the solidarity of all French people: “Together, we can halt this progression and face this ordeal”

During this third step, it will be a question of pointing out the individual attitude to be preempted, the collective efforts to be carried out and the common objectives to be pursued. “It is by disciplining ourselves and respecting the instructions that all together we will be able to succeed in this battle” we can hear in substance. We managed to face the first wave, we will cross this second wave by remaining united and strong. This is the message. All this while announcing the next steps, the timetable set to give visibility to the action taken. After identifying and naming the dangers and threats, the exercise consists of transforming them into risks: a risk is rationalized, it is possible to develop reflexes to guard against it or limit its impacts. The aim of this exercise is to put the fear of the French at bay by presenting them the risks and by designating what they can accomplish collectively.

Anyway, each word, each term used by the President of the Republic will be dissected, analyzed, commented on by experts accustomed to TV sets. However, public opinion knows that progress is to change mistakes. She will judge in the light of his ability to respond to the concerns of the French while raising their awareness of the current risk, to demonstrate his capacity for action, transparency and openness, while assuming his responsibilities. In other words, take control of the narrative, presented as objective and rational, so that no one else does it for him. If possible before 2022.

Anne-Claire Ruel

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