As Father’s Day approaches, I’d like to tell you the story of how my father influenced my communication style. He was an Air Force officer from 1951-1978 -- when the Cold War was in full fever pitch. Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, KGB -- Dad had a front row seat to the whole thing and yes, that means he was pretty steeped in the world of military intelligence.
Now, before the oxymoron digs start flying, let me tell you, these people have impressive communication skills. Which, to my eye, is evidence of impressive intelligence.
Here’s what my father’s communication style taught me.
The best communications are:
“No chatter in cockpit,” I’ve heard Dad say (he flew B52s in the 60s).
When you’re at 30,000 feet and your starboard wingtip is 6 feet from Soviet airspace, or refueling in midair at 500 MPH by connecting with another aircraft flying 50 feet above you, (in wartime, in a storm, above the middle of the Pacific) the only thing that should ever come out of your mouth is relevant, useful information. I’ll talk more about relevance in a bit. The point here is to recognize the superfluous and kill it. Resist the temptation to speak in metaphors, add context or color, frame and re-frame and re-frame and then re-frame again (like we marketers just love to do).
Just the facts, Jack -- that’s what Dad taught me. Who knew that one day I would grow up to write for this crazy thing called the Internet where every syllable -- indeed every pixel counts? Dad’s minimalist style comes in handy when creating web content.
Here’s an example I like of brief, but strong. When the request came in (after it was decoded, of course): ENEMY AGENT COMING TO OUR SIDE. CAN YOU RETRIEVE @ 8°39′ N 16°51′ E OCT 2 13:00? Dad pulled out his charts and looked up the coordinates (somewhere in Africa -- yes, the Cold War was fought on every grain of sand on this planet), made a flight plan, checked his watch, and responded with these two syllables: “CAN DO”.
What I like about this example is that while YES would have been fewer syllables, CAN DO is more affirmative. It gives the requester more confidence that his needs will be met. YES leaves a little room for interpretation … was that a YES with a heavy sigh? Was that a resentful YES? CAN DO just doesn't have those problems.
3. Data Driven
We marketers don’t know from big data. The Military has the big data thing down. I would argue that militaries live, eat, and breathe little else. Can’t fight a war with out some serious big data. They certainly do not make decisions without first looking at data backwards and forward and upside down. Positions, velocities, ETAs, success probabilities, supply chain logistics, forecasting scenarios -- and by the way, you have to have all of this data on your competi -- I mean enemy, too, if you’re the military.