The last seven days have been a real ‘tour de force’ for anyone interested in communication. I’m not talking about cutting edge tech or new software – the last week has highlighted the very best in simple, effective communication. So the next time you’re presenting it might be worth remembering simpler times….
This whole train of thought was set in motion by the story of Gustav and the important role he played during D-Day. Gustav delivered the first news from the Normandy beaches back to the UK.
But Gustav wasn’t a radio operator, an encryption specialist or a spy – Gustav was a pigeon. During one of the most complex and dangerous military campaigns of all time, the first indication of how things were progressing was delivered by a pigeon.
The fact that Gustav was given the Dickin Medal for his efforts (the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross) shows just how important this communication was.
In a situation more complicated, dangerous and challenging than anything you’ll ever face in a boardroom, effective communication came down to paper, pencil and pigeon.
Communicating by flags is not a new idea either and one of the most impressive examples of how this simple system works when others would fail was seen last week at the Isle of Man TT.
The TT presents some unique communication challenges – the riders are spread out along the 37.73 mile course, they are all wearing helmets and ear plugs, and they are travelling at speed (130mph or thereabouts). Houses, hedgerows, moorland and mountains all pass by faster than the human brain can thoroughly process them. Catching the riders’ attention without causing an accident is no mean feat – and the safety of everyone concerned relies on flags.
With an audience focussed on winning the most dangerous race in the world, effective, safe communication comes down to a stick and some cloth.
Which brings us surprisingly to Britain’s Got Talent and the 2013 winners Attraction. Attraction won by using one of the oldest communication mediums available – shadow theatre.
Believed to have originated in the Han Dynasty China (206BC – 220AD) shadow theatre has been used for centuries to convey complex, emotive stories. It works because it does not require the audience to be literate or share a common language with the presenter (making it perfect for the plethora of BGT audience jokes that I am studiously avoiding).
So when your audience doesn’t understand your language, does effective communication come down to prancing about in a leotard?
Well, much to my personal relief, the answer’s no. But shadow theatre is the pinnacle of visual communication and achieves a level of audience connection and investment that we should aspire to with every image, chart and graph we include in our presentations.