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Optimization of CEOs and spokespersons use of voice in times of crisis and conflict.

Every organization is vulnerable to crises, which are unexpected events that have a large impact on an organization’s operations, and which have negative consequences for the organization (Coombs, 2015). One of the most important consequences of a crisis is reputation damage (Avery, Lariscy, Kim, & Hocke, 2010). In order to limit the negative consequences of a crisis, crisis communication is crucial, because research has shown that crisis communication influences the perception of the crisis and the organization (Coombs, 2007). Most research on the impact of crisis communication has focused on the content of crisis communication, such as the impact of crisis response strategies on organizational reputation (Avery et al., 2010; Kim, Avery, & Lariscy, 2011).

However, people often receive news about organizations through audiovisual media, such as television or videos on the internet (Coombs & Holladay, 2009; Veil, Buehner, & Palenchar, 2011). Moreover, organizations increasingly use social media for crisis communication, which often contain video messages (Schultz, Utz, & Göritz, 2011; Utz, Schultz, & Glocka, 2013). Those audiovisual messages contain not only verbal cues, but also nonverbal cues (e.g., voice pitch, hand gestures) (Coombs & Holladay, 2009). Research from social psychology and interpersonal communication has repeatedly shown that nonverbal cues affects the perception of a speaker and the attitudes and behavior of a listener (e.g., Tigue, Borak, O’Connor, Schandl, & Feinberg, 2012).

Despite this potential importance of nonverbal communication for spokespersons in times of crisis, nonverbal cues have received little attention in the context of crisis communication. A few studies have examined the effects of visual cues in crisis communication, such as a spokesperson’s race, facial features, or the use of powerful gestures (e.g., Claeys & Cauberghe, 2014; Gorn, Jiang, & Johar, 2008; Hong & Len-Riós, 2015). Research on vocal cues in crisis communication is limited to one study that examined the impact of one vocal cue (voice pitch) on the perceptions of a spokesperson (Claeys & Cauberghe, 2014). This study showed that a spokesperson’s voice indeed has an impact on the perception of a spokesperson in times of crisis.

However, research on the impact of voice pitch on the evaluation of an organization and on consumers’ behavioral intentions is nonexistent. Moreover, social psychology research indicates that several other cues (e.g., speech rate) have effects that could be relevant in crisis communication as well (e.g., credibility) (cf. Peterson, Cannito, & Brown, 1995). Also, the voice plays an important role in conveying emotions (Murray & Arnott, 1993). Researchers have recognized the importance of emotions in crisis communication (Claeys, Cauberghe, & Leysen, 2013; van der Meer & Verhoeven, 2014), but the impact of emotions in the voice has not been addressed. Furthermore, in audiovisual crisis communication, visual and vocal cues occur simultaneously, but their interaction has also not been addressed in crisis communication research.

Therefore, this research project wants to thoroughly examine the impact of the voice in crisis communication, in order to provide insights into how managers and spokespersons can use their voice effectively in times of crisis.

Avery, E. J., Lariscy, R. W., Kim, S., & Hocke, T. (2010). A quantitative review of crisis communication research in public relations from 1991 to 2009. Public Relations Review, 36(2), 190-192.

Claeys, A. S., & Cauberghe, V. (2014). Keeping control: The importance of nonverbal expressions of power by organizational spokespersons in times of crisis. Journal of Communication64(6), 1160-1180.

Claeys, A.-S., Cauberghe, V., & Leysen, J. (2013). Implications of stealing thunder for the impact of expressing emotions in organizational crisis communication. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(3), 293-308.

Coombs, W. T. (2007). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: the development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10(3), 163-176.

Coombs, W. T. (2015). Ongoing crisis communication: planning, managing, and responding. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2009). Further explorations of post-crisis communication: Effects of media and response strategies on perceptions and intentions. Public Relations Review, 35(1), 1-6.

Gorn, G., Jiang, Y., & Johar, G. V. (2008). Babyfaces, trait inferences, and company evaluations in a public relations crisis. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(1), 36-49.

Hong, S., & Len-Riós, M. E. (2015). Does race matter? Implicit and explicit measures of the effect of the PR spokesman’s race on evaluations of spokesman source credibility and perceptions of a PR crisis’ severity. Journal of Public Relations Research27(1), 63–80.

Kim, S., Avery, E. J., & Lariscy, R. W. (2009). Are crisis communicators practicing what we preach? An evaluation of crisis response strategy analyzed in public relations research from 1991 to 2009. Public Relations Review, 35(4), 446-448.

Murray, I. R., & Arnott, J. L. (1993). Toward the simulation of emotion in synthetic speech: A review of the literature on human vocal emotion. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 93(2), 1097–1108. doi:10.1121/1.405558

Peterson, R. A., Cannito, M. P., & Brown, S.P. (1995). An exploratory investigation of voice characteristics and selling effectiveness. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 15(1), 1-15.

Schultz, F., Utz, S., & Göritz, A. (2011). Is the medium the message? Perceptions of and reactions to crisis communication via twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 20-27.

Tigue, C. C., Borak, D. J., O’Connor, J. J. M., Schandl, C., & Feinberg, D. R. (2012). Voice pitch influences voting behavior. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(3), 210-216.

Utz, S., Schultz, F., & Glocka, S. (2013). Crisis communication online: How medium, crisis type and emotions affected public reactions in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Public Relations Review, 39(1), 40-46.

Van der Meer, T. G. L. A., & Verhoeven, J. W. M. (2014). Emotional crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 40(3), 526-536.

Veil, S. R., Buehner, T., & Palenchar, M. J. (2011). A work-in-process literature review : Incorporating social media in risk and crisis communication. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 19(2), 110-122.


Date:16 Feb 2015  →  16 Feb 2019
Keywords:nonverbal communication, voice characteristics, Crisis communication, organizational reputation
Disciplines:Communications, Communications technology
Project type:PhD project