Communication Matters Newsletter         
February 2017                                                 Like us on Facebook   Follow us on Twitter   View our profile on LinkedIn   Find us on Google+   View our videos on YouTube   Visit our blog
Dear  ,

Three Tips to Avoid Being Misinterpreted
Ever had a child, a co-worker, or a friend misquote you?  It can be embarrassing, inefficient, or perhaps hurtful.  Or worse.  Read on to see what you can do to ensure communication success.

What they say you said
This past week is a bittersweet one in the anniversary column.  I grew up in and around America's space program (I went to elementary school with astronaut's kids; I saw rockets go up regularly in middle and high school).  It's a tough part of the calendar to remember in space exploration:
  • January 27, 1967: a fire during a launch pad test killed three astronauts (I went to astronaut namesake Ed White Elementary School for four years)
  • January 28, 1986: the Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff and kills all seven on board (astronaut Ellison Onizuka was the guest signer at my middle school yearbook party)
  • February 1, 2003: the Space Shuttle Columbia burns up on re-entry, killing all seven aboard (I have a shuttle tile similar to the one that fell off as part of my personal memorabilia collection)
For my generation, the Challenger accident is the seminal "Where were you?" moment (rivaling JFK's assassination, Pearl Harbor, or 911 for other generations).  The Challenger accident is particularly poignant for me.  I was there.  It was the first of the 25 to-date launches that I didn't witness leave the pad -- it was too cold to be outside for most Floridians.  When I got word of the circumstances seconds after the explosion, I went outside and watched the Shuttle fall down and Solid Rocket plumes continue their eerie track.  It's a sight you cannot forget.  Later, as an aerospace engineering student in college, I studied the forces and design of the failed O-ring that caused the accident.

Challenger spaceshuttle miscommunication

But my continued interest lies in the root cause of the accident, of which science is rarely fingered.  Google will reveal many opinions identifying who to blame.  It has become a classical case study for engineers, statisticians, human factors engineering, risk management, and... communication.

One quote is particularly haunting to anyone who values good messaging.

On the morning of the launch, Thiokol engineer Bob Ebeling told his daughter, " The Challenger's going to blow up. Everyone's going to die."  It's a foreboding prediction that haunted him until his death last year.

The blame certainly can't fall on Mr. Ebeling.  He and his engineer buddies produced no less than 13 charts (this was in the pre-PowerPoint era, for better or for worse) that were faxed to NASA as evidence that the launch should be delayed.  This was Thiokal's only "delay launch" recommendation in 12 years.  But in the high-pressure crucible of decision-making, the final choice was not the engineers' to make.  Managers and planners and executives argued into the wee hours of the morning before ultimately giving a confident "Go for launch."  How can an engineer's "this isn't a good idea" end up with "MTI recommends STS-51L launch proceed on 28 January 1986"?

The answer is communication.  The listeners had filters (and ulterior motives, like a launch schedule and a pending contract).  The speakers felt their language (engineering data) was easy to understand, but never translated it to business or risk assessment.  It can happen to us all.

Here are tips to help you avoid misinterpretation and failure of your launch, whether it's an idea, a business, an interview, or math lesson.
  1. Find your core message.  Get it down to a single statement.  We tell our students, "If you can't give your core message in one sentence, you don't have a message."
  2. Don't bury the lead.  Data is supporting evidence, not the story.  Make a statement, back it up with your evidence, and restate the conclusion.  Newspapers put their headlines in big letters for a reason.  You should too.
  3. Don't just present data, interpret it.  We will examine the three data questions in a later newsletter, but suffice it to say that a table of launch temperatures and estimated O-ring data is not compelling enough to a roomful of managers.
As I typed this I was a victim of my own failed communication.  A child's request to play at the park with friends was given "be home in an hour and fifteen minutes" as a condition to the approval.  When I went to the park to get the wayward child an hour and forty-five minutes later (!), I was told there was some discrepancy in the assumed departure time as well as several communicated options for return time.  Rather than ask for clarification, the receiver of my vague communication departed on a separate agenda and timeline.  I won't be so vague next time - if there is a next time. 

Communication matters, what are you saying?

For a comprehensive analysis of the data discussion leading up to the Challenger decision, I highly recommend Edward Tufte's book, Visual Explanations.
Math Problems and public speaking
Last Month's Newsletter -- Bonus Math Questions

You may have noticed in last month's newsletter, we gave you some Bonus math questions and the equation in one of the questions was inadvertently left out. For those math wizzes out there who were curious or for those who missed it, you can test your skill by checking out last month's article on  Three Communication Principles Every Manager and (Math) Teacher Should Use .

Presentation Sin
Presentation Sin Book Speaking Tips

This month's Speaking Tip taken from Presentation Sin  addresses the sin of not highlighting what's important.
Speaking Tip Not Highlighting What_s Important

Upcoming Workshops

Raleigh, NC
Mar 13-14, May 1-2, June 12-13, Aug 28-29, Oct 16-17, Dec 11-12

Richmond, VA
Feb 21-22
Feb 23

Join us for two days that will change your life in our Powerful, Persuasive Speaking Workshop!  This highly interactive, hands-on workshop gives you the skills to face an audience and deliver content in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. Close that deal, give that career-changing presentation, or motivate your audience to action. Speak with confidence, power, and ease. Limited seating.

Here's a sneak peek at what a public speaking skills workshop from MillsWyck Communications is really like:

Need a Speaker for your Event?

Alan Hoffler Keynote Speaker

Alan Hoffler, founder and director of MillsWyck Communications, is an accomplished keynote speaker.  He uses the skills he teaches to craft authentic, custom messages that energize and motivate audiences.  

One of Alan's Signature Keynote Topics

Presentation Sin: The Practical Guide to Stop Offending (and start Impressing) Your Audience
Based on his  book by the same title, Alan identifies the standards by which all presentations and speaking are judged. Yes, there IS a standard. Presentation sins are being committed every day. Presenters are violating the standards in management meetings, sales presentations, job interviews, one-on-one conversations, and keynote speeches everywhere. Speakers don't even have to know they are offending to be guilty of it. Come take a tour with Alan on the basics of presenting that no one ever bothered to teach you.  You will see how simple changes can make you a rock star on the stage.  In this humorous and example-filled session, you will recognize yourself and others and find the way to developing skills that will make you stand out among your peers. All the while, Alan will demonstrate the techniques he is teaching, and inspire you that anyone can be a competent and effective presenter.
You will never think of speaking the same.

Check out the full list of Alan's  keynotes  or contact us a bout customizing a presentation or workshop for your group.  If you need a speaker for your next corporate meeting, professional organization, or conference, contact us  at 

MillsWyck Communications
Communication  matters.  What  are  YOU saying?
Alan Hoffler, Philorator (Teacher & Lover of Speaking)
(919) 386-9238 

A lan Hoffler is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer at MillsWyck Communications.  He is a Trainer, Speaker, Author, and Coach who passionately moves others to effective and engaging communication. 
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