‘Lizard Brain’ Is Real, It’s Time to Revamp Member Communications

Knowing how to communicate with members—and when—consumes many hours of discussion even in good times. Add multiple crises in a single year, and things really get complex. A communications expert offers some tips for engaging members in uneasy times.

Finally, Zoom fatigue explained! It’s caused by “lizard brain,” according Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications. Lizard brain is one operating in survival mode, relying on fight or flight instincts. Understandable. We are experiencing several crises at once—a global pandemic, an unstable economy, racial injustice, political realignment, and more.

Compounding that, many people are sleeping less, working longer, eating and drinking more, and exercising less, all of which contributes to an inability to focus (including on all those Zoom meetings) and other issues. Our brains are not working like they usually do.

So how to better engage members when it’s difficult to make connections with such compromised brains? Singer recommends communicating in a way that doesn’t require as much energy for members to process. For example, research shows shorter emails have a 50 percent higher response rate.

“You can’t continue to communicate with members the ways you have in the past,” she said. Here are some additional insights.

Shifting Personas

Now is a great time to look at your messaging. Singer cited a recent study from Ketchum, Brand Reckoning 2020: How Crisis Culture Is Redefining Consumer Behavior, Loyalty, and Values, which shows a marked change in Americans’ openness to reengaging with the outside world. The research identifies four crisis-culture personas:

  • Retro re-engagers want to return to the world as it was before.
  • Open-minded explorers have new priorities and are ready to embrace new things.
  • Worried withholders are not easily influenced and want to stay in their comfort zones.
  • Cautious questioners want to keep their distance until they know more.

The largest group of responders (33 percent) are retro re-engagers. Because it’s unlikely that the world will go back to the way it was, Singer said, it’s important to keep those personas in mind as you craft messages. She recommends using words like contribute, connect, navigate, cope, and respond instead of capitalize, offer, advantage, gain, and profit.

Show You Care

“We’ve moved to a different playbook being driven by people under 40” who expect marketing and communications to be largely driven by experience, Singer said. That means it’s time to be more empathetic, sympathetic, and compassionate.

For example, it’s not enough to simply ask, “How are you?” Instead, ask, “How are you doing?” or “How are you handling COVID-19?” Eliciting a deeper response shows you care and gives your members—including your volunteer leaders—a safe space where they can expand on what is happening to them right now, she said.

Kick It Old School

Singer recommends revisiting old-fashioned ways to connect, such as by phone or with handwritten notes, which will provide a welcome break from video calls. Or help members communicate directly with one another by setting up a phone tree and have one member, with a script, call five other members and discuss the value-added aspects of the organization. Then ask questions like: What is giving you value right now? How can the association provide that virtually? How can the organization be an innovator in the industry? And more.

Nothing feels normal right now, and our brains, in their lizard form, are not processing information like they usually do. To stay connected with your members, it’s time to reassess messaging, revisit more personalized—and old-fashioned—ways of communicating, and express compassion.

(Mickilu/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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