Communication Under Pressure

Two hundred and six miles above the earth, at a speed of 17,500 mph, the U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavor is closing in on theRussian space station MIR. But there's a glitch.

With precious little time to act or talk, shuttle commander Terry Wilcutt asks astronaut Jim Reilly three key questions:

"Do you have a plan? Is it working? Are you ahead or behind?"

It's four in the morning in San Diego. Three black cars quietly pull into an empty Piggly Wiggly supermarket parking lot. Through the windshields you can see the flickering red glow of communications scanners. Doors open, trunks pop up, and the occupants quickly put on body armor and black raid jackets that say, "U. S. Marshal."  They grab weapons and door rams and gather around a briefing officer. She tells them exactly what they need to know to drive two blocks west, storm a house, and hopefully capture a top-fifteen wanted-list fugitive without incident. She wastes no words. The entire briefing lasts four minutes. A United States Marshal Service Fugitive Investigative Strike Team -- FIST Team -- is ready to roll.  


Flying east, in hostile Laotian skies, a U. S. Air Force F-4 Phantom pilot knows an enemy fighter is locked on to him and only seconds away from firing its missiles. It crosses his mind that he might be about ready to buy the farm. But off in the distance, over all the radio chatter, a radar officer crisply says, "Voodoo, they're two miles north of you!" Call sign Voodoo immediately turns north, gets his own lock-on, shoots down two MIG-21s, and becomes the last fighter ACE of the Vietnam conflict.  

In a high-level staff meeting at a celebrated Fortune Five Hundred company a vice president gathers 17 key staffers for a morning meeting. Because he has only twenty minutes before he must leave for the airport, he announces he wants a "Lightning Round." Each staffer responds by coming to the overhead projector with one visual aid that takes no more than one minute to present. When they're finished, the VP says, "Great meeting! I have just what I need for New York. See you next week."    

Connecting Communication to the Future

Each of these stories has a common thread: Great teams under pressure can communicate accurately and quickly, get straight to the point, and bring an issue to closure. When they do, they win. But it takes discipline, the kind that comes from putting together powerful communication strategies that create competitive advantage, get decisions made, and even save lives!

Right now there are a number of successful business and government teams that have taken the time to create powerful new communication strategies for themselves. They took the time because time itself is emerging as this century's most valuable resource.

The communication model they use is as simple as the clear messages it produces:

  • Put your main point up front.
  • Analyze your audience so they get the point and pay attention.
  • Don't deliver the message if it isn't going to get something done.
  • Say it in the shortest possible time.
  • Match short, powerful words with uncluttered visuals that clearly support what you're saying.
  • Deliver the message with a conversational style that includes genuine eye contact and positive body language.
  • Be superbly prepared to answer questions when you're finished.
  • Sit down and listen.