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BLUF: Can anyone recommend an effective book, online course, or in-person training for technical folks to improve business communication?

I run a small staff of information security engineers and analysts. One constant struggle is maintaining a staff with both the needed technical acumen and top-notch communication skills. Our team communicates frequently with organizational leadership and with clients, including clients’ executive leadership. Following recent turnover, I’m facing the challenge of trying to bring several new people up to speed, while not having time to produce a curriculum of my own. I’d appreciate any resources this group knows about!

The outcomes I want for my staff are to:

  • write and speak with brevity and clarity
  • address the audience’s concerns, rather than wading through from an engineer’s perspective or meandering away from the topic at hand
  • write to a purpose (e.g. understand that persuasion, reporting, and teaching are different things that need different approaches)
  • separate important/relevant from unimportant/less relevant information, rather than giving all data equal attention in communication... put another way, stay away from the high-C data dump style of writing
LEmerson's picture

This sounds very similar to the career I was in before I retired. I led several teams of writers that produced research materials for tax professionals.

We could find super smart tax minds all day long, same with good writers. It was amazing how rare it was to find a person who could do both. It wasn't until I became responsible for recruiting, hiring, and managing the writers that I started taking the left-brain right-brain thinking seriously. Accountants tend to be technical, following the rules exactly. Good writers are more on the creative side. We analyzed the traits of people who were successful and found a common trait was a high level of interest in playing music. It makes sense because playing music is a combination of high creativity and math aptitude. We included a question about musical interests in our interviews, and it seemed to be a real benefit in identifying prospects.

When we whittled down the applicants to six or so, we'd bring them in for what we called "boot camp," usually three days in a week, where we put them into realistic scenarios and evaluated their writing. We paid a small stipend for boot camp, $50 a day. There would generally be one or two that we would hire.

"Meanderting away from the topic." We called this "Spinning into oblivion." We addressed this on day one. Avoiding spinning was a cardinal rule. Unfortunately this was a tough habit to break for those that fell into it. I'd tell my writers, "Don't swing for the fences if I just gave you the bunt sign."

"Stay away from the high-C data dump style of writing." Our writers task was translating tax code into plain English. I called this phenomenon "chatty code." So many accountants will explain things like, "The Section 179 deduction applies the same limits as set forth in IRC Section 162," and call it a day. My response would be, "If the read needs an IRC codebook at their side to understand what you're saying you've failed."

We had very little available space in our publications, which helped with the brevity factor. All new writers would go way over their allotted space, because of course they need all that space to fully explain the subject. They'd get the manuscript back to cut to size. It was painful for them, but the finished produce was much more clear and concise.