Early warning systems trigger early action and enable better disaster preparedness. People-centered dissemination and communication are pivotal for the effective uptake of early warnings. Current research predominantly focuses on sudden-onset hazards, such as floods, ignoring considerable differences with slow-onset hazards, such as droughts. We identify the essential factors contributing to effective drought dissemination and communication using the people-centered approach advocated in the WMOs Multi-Hazard Early Warning System Framework (MHEWS). We use semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders and focus group discussions with small-scale farmers in the Mangochi and Salima Districts of Malawi. We show that the timely release of seasonal forecast, the tailoring of the drought warning content (and its timing) to agricultural decision making, and the provision of several dissemination channels enhance trust and improve uptake of drought warning information by farmers. Our analysis demonstrates that farmers seek, prepare, and respond to drought warning information when it is provided as advice on agricultural practices, rather than as weather-related information. The information was found to be useful where it offers advice on the criteria and environmental cues that farmers can use to inform their decisions in a timely manner. Based on our findings, we propose that by focusing on enhancing trust, improving information uptake and financial sustainability as key metrics, the MHEWS can be adapted for use in monitoring the effectiveness of early warning systems.