What can a soldier teach you about communicating? Communications / Events / Leadership communications / Member post / Public speaking / Reputation management

Ben Findlay, Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Deloitte Australia, shares his views on our recent marquee event, ‘An evening with David Morrison’.

It is easy to see why Sydney’s Victoria Barracks are one of the best-known examples of military architecture in Australia. As I walked across the parade ground, the evening sunlight infusing the sandstone of the 1840s era buildings gave everything a golden glow.

My destination was the courtyard of the officers’ mess (originally the Barrack Master’s Residence, built in 1847), where about 50 communicators had gathered, sitting at tables amongst the trees and cobblestones to hear a soldier talk about communications, culture and capability.

The occasion was the final event of the year for the NSW Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), organised by two of my colleagues (and IABC board members), Ike Levick and Andrew Cooper.

The soldier talking to us was the 2016 Australian of the Year and former Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison AO.

This is a man who has challenged the status quo and polarised public opinion when he became the 2016 Australian of the Year. Yet he started his speech by acknowledging not only the Indigenous land on which he stood, but also asking the audience to recognise the victims of domestic and family violence.

Whatever you might think of him, David Morrison is a great orator. He is not tall, but completely owns and commands the space he is in. He uses tone, pace and silence to impressive effect. He tells stories and he knows the power of language and how to use it.

Following on from my last blog, this was perhaps what struck me the most: how the most effective leaders are very aware of the words and language they use to affect change and create perceptions.

David Morrison told us that you can shape culture with the right language and that culture eats strategy for breakfast. I’ve heard that latter phrase before, but it takes on a different meaning coming from the ex-leader of the Australian Army, a man who has studied strategy for decades and is famous for a video that challenged a culture head on with words.

In the space of 25 minutes that evening David Morrison provided the following memorable gems – weaved into a story combining his father, poetry and Robert Kennedy – to illustrate how leaders have shaped human history through courage, passion and short, simple, clear language that inspires action:

  • Culture can be simply described as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves
  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast
  • You can only truly disrupt a culture through the power of language
  • People do things for their reasons, not yours
  • Leadership comes from the head and the heart.

This last point personifies David Morrison to me – a leader who speaks with passion and conviction. A leader is who is incredibly well read, yet recognises that straight-forward words and stories are most effective in engaging people’s emotions and leaving something that lives on in the listener’s mind.

This was a powerful reminder for me. In the rush of today’s hyper-connected world, how often do we slow down enough to truly consider the impact we want our communication to have?

How do we find the right words and language to inspire emotions, create lasting memories or create meaningful change?

This article is reproduced with permission. You can connect with Ben and read the original version, and other blog posts written on LinkedIn