Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 441–460 | Cite as

Spokespersons’ Nonverbal Behavior in Times of Crisis: The Relative Importance of Visual and Vocal Cues

  • Aurélie De WaeleEmail author
  • An-Sofie Claeys
  • Verolien Cauberghe
  • Gijs Fannes
Original Paper


When a chief executive officer or spokesperson responds to an organizational crisis, he or she communicates not only with verbal cues but also visual and vocal cues. While most research in the area of crisis communication has focused on verbal cues (e.g., apologies, denial), this paper explores the relative importance of visual and vocal cues by spokespersons of organizations in crisis. Two experimental studies have more specifically examined the impact of a spokesperson’s visual cues of deception (i.e., gaze aversion, posture shifts, adaptors), because sending a credible response is crucial in times of crisis. Each study focused on the interplay of these visual cues with two specific vocal cues that have also been linked to perceptions of deception (speech disturbances in study 1; voice pitch in study 2). Both studies show that visual cues of deception negatively affect both consumers’ attitudes towards the organization (study 1) and their purchase intentions (study 2) after a crisis. In addition, the findings indicate that in crisis communication, the impact of visual cues dominates the outcomes of vocal cues. In both studies, vocal cues only affected consumers’ perceptions when the spokesperson displayed visual cues of deception. More specifically, the findings show that crisis communication messages with speech disturbances (study 1) or a raised voice pitch (study 2) can negatively affect organizational post-crisis perceptions.


Public relations Crisis communication Spokespersons’ visual cues Vocal cues Credibility Deception 



This work was supported in part by a grant from the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT) (Grant Number 141414).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Media Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesKU LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Communication Sciences, Center for Persuasive Communication, Faculty of Social and Political SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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