Crisis, uncertanty and communication

Objectives of the course :


To train the students

– To assess the factors which might lead to a crisis, imagining ‘worst case scenarios’, and to detect preventive signals 

– To plan a company’s response taking into account the time, human and knowledge factors, (crises always spread when one cannot anticipate what will happen and where to go)

– To avoid spreading negative information and keeping the pertinent data circulating inside the company 

– To evaluate and anticipate and influence the reaction of the stakeholders of the company

– To deal with the media and public opinion, knowing what to say or to write and when, and incidentally by which channel and to whom. 

– To manage the reaction of their organization to facilitate a return to normal


Course content : 


Since the 80’s at least, « Crisis » has become one the words most widely used by the medias. Everything seems to undergo major crises : finances, economy, political systems, ecological systems…  Why should the companies be spared by this general trend ? On the contrary, they become more and more eager to protect themselves not only from risk, but also from this strange combination of unpredictable events, surprise or reluctance to admit the unexpected, spreading panic, organizational disorder, and potential damage to their image (not to mention economical and juridical consequences) that we call a « crisis ». 


Every organization is likely to undergo a major crisis caused either by 

– natural or industrial disaster, 

– internal or external events, such as political problems in a foreign country

– changes in the business or political environment

– or by an attempt upon its image. 


Instead of making everything more manageable, technology often appears as a worsening factor for at least two reasons. Long term consequences of technological innovation often creates « black swans »  – i.e. events previously considered as impossible or very unlikely and which have a very high impact. Besides, communication technologies make it easier for bad news to be magnified by the medias, and for negative opinions (like consumer generated contents on social networks) to turn into serious reputation crises.

On the other hand, insufficient knowledge management, poor internal communication, group-thinking, inadequate advocacy, weak relationship with the media, bad practice of influence or ineffective articulation (which can easily be compounded by bad decision-making) can transform any minor problem into a major issue.


Above all crisis management requires understanding the role of influence.




First week


Day 1:Theory and strategy


After devoting a part of the course to theoretical notions (information, communication, crisis, risk, corporate reputation, influence, and typology of crises…), we shall analyze a certain number of historical crises, placing the emphasis on communication, and assessing the factors which contributed to the spreading, worsening or resolution of the crisis.


Day 2: Monitoring

This part will deal with crisis anticipation (taking fresh examples even in the news of the day), and to the methodology of monitoring on the Internet. Participants will be trained to detect ‘weak signals’ (including those of opinion changes) in a deliberate information overload situation and to analyze and imagine scenarios

Day 3:Organization

Assessing organizational and human factors and preparing the management of information (crisis cell, crisis management plan…) will also be underlined (taking into account uncertainty due to ignorance and indecision generated by the reaction of media and public opinion). 

Day 4: Expression 

Participants will take part in realistic media training exercises and learn how to express themselves, in speech and in writing. The ‘Web 2.0′ factor (as part of the crisis itself) will be emphasized, i.e. the changes brought about by new Internet technologies which allow almost any social group to ‘become the media’, and which undermines the power of the mainstream media, and multiplies perspectives on the crisis.

Day 5:Crisis simulation

As there is no substitute for experience, no-one can profess to have mastered crisis communication without knowing how he might react individually and as a group member in an actual, realistic and sometimes stressful situation. Role-playing and realistic scenarios will therefore be important tools for this final day.

Role-playing and realistic scenarios will therefore be important tool (it might even be fun). 


During the second week, the « project » to be organized by the students will be a different kind of role-playing. Working on the Internet with the teacher/animator on-line, they will have to react to an evolving crisis situation: every day, they will have to cope with new events or new requests, determined by the Web. Like for previous seminar, we will create a web site devoted to your class on word, or some similar system.

In a way similar to some on-line games, every participant will be challenged by unexpected situations. Every reaction will produce consequences, new events and new requests, and therefore every student’s virtual universe will differ according to his chosen policy. 





Proper classroom etiquette is expected at all times.

Any assignment not completed will be assigned a grade of “0”.

All assignments must be completed on time. No postponement and/or retake of the assigned tasks shall be allowed.

Failing grades from individual test and other assignments shall not be calculated and will equal ‘0′.




(All components of evaluation must 10/20 or above for the student to pass.)

During the first period, the students will be evaluated by groups and notes will be collective, a marginal bonus being granted to those who have revealed themselves to be particularly participative, creative and adaptive.

During the second week, every student will work individually and therefore will be assessed on the basis of their daily output of messages, reports, articles, speeches, blogs, on line videos, wikis, web site content or whatever they judge to be the satisfactory answer to the « crisis » latest developments. Taking into account that some students might be returning to their companies a sufficient delay will be granted to allow them to answer after working hours.




During the first week, the student working in groups will have to express themselves, and to simulate real-life situations with a very short time of preparation (like, for instance, improvising a press conference or a strategic conference).

During the achievement of their project, they will have to produce an individual daily output on Internet.







Teaching Methods:


After a the presentation of methods of crises management or crisis communication and the analysis of significant examples, participants will take part in realistic media training exercises and learn how to express themselves, in speech and in writing, and also on the Internet. 

Discovering the ‘Do, Don’t Do lists’, that is: major mistakes to avoid, such as group-thinking and reality denial, are also part of the process. 

Most important : several crisis simulation exercises (who said psychodrama ?) will take place during the course. Including evolving role-playing situations. As there is no substitute for experience, no-one can profess to have mastered crisis communication without knowing how he might react individually and as a group member in an actual, realistic and sometimes stressful situation. Under the guidance of a ferocious teacher…




Coombs, W. T. Code Red in the Boardroom: Crisis Management as Organizational DNA. Westport, CT: Praeger. 2006

Delbecque E. et Combalbert L., Le leadership de l’incertitude, Vuibert 2010

Dezenhall, E.; Weber, J. Damage control: Why everything you know about crisis management is wrong. Portfolio Hardcover. 2007

François L. et Huyghe F.B., Contre-pouvoirs, Eyrolles 2009

Hassid O.La gestion de crise. Dunod/Topos 2008.

Heiderich D. Plan de gestion de crise. Organiser, gérer et communiquer en situation de crise. Dunod. 2010.

Lagadec P. Ruptures créatrices, Editions d’organisation2000

Liebaert T., La communication de crise, Dunod 2005

Mitroff, I Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger And Better From a Crisis: Seven Essential Lessons For Surviving Disaster. New York: Amacom 20005

Taleb N.N.,  The Black Swan, Penguin, 2007

Ulmer, R. R.; Sellnow, T. L., & Seeger, M. W.Effective crisis communication: Moving from crisis to opportunity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications 2006


Lecturer Bio:


François-Bernard Huyghe is a « Docteur d’État » in Political Sciences, (PhD) and holds a French « Habilitation à diriger des recherches » (which entitles to direct PHD research) in Information and Communication Sciences. He is a consultant and fellow senior researcher at IRIS (Institut de Recherches Internationales et Stratégiques, a major French think tank). He teaches in several Universities (including on the virtual campus of Limoges devoted to e-learning and Celsa Paris IV- Sorbonne). He wrote books dealing with information technologies and their cultural impact (including terrorism, which is also an « influence strategy ») and is a scientific member of the Conseil Supérieur de la Formation et de la Recherche Stratégique, which covers the field of strategic research in France.

  His web site ( reflects his research in the field of communication and conflict, influence and corporate intelligence. And those of you who are french-speaking will find here abundant resources on theme of crisis. See his bibliography on

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