Episode 581 what a brigadier general taught me about communication – the official bni podcast

The general asked the students to write a 10-page paper and bring it back in two weeks. When they did so, he sat down with them and skimmed through them right there in class. After he finished, he told them to cut out all the fluff and come back in a week with a five-page version of the same paper.

When they did so, the general once again sat down and reviewed all the papers during class. He then told them to come back in a week with a two-page version of the paper. Incredulous, the students did so, only to be told to come back the next week with a one-page paper containing all the important information.

The general then explained the importance of including an executive summary with every report sent to a superior, because no one has time to read 10 pages just to figure out what the main points are.This is even more true now that everyone gets hundreds of emails per day.


Start with a summary that includes bullet points of the most important items and offer to provide more detail.

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Official BNI Podcast, brought to you by the Networking for Success Channel on YouTube, which features Dr. Ivan Miser and many other networking experts. I am Priscilla Rice, and I am coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkeley, California. I am joined on the phone today by the Founder and the Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner. Hello, Ivan. How are you and where are you?

Yeah it is. Here is the deal. I received an email from someone I didn’t know. He sent me this email that could only be described as the book, War and Peace. The original printing of the book was 1,225 pages long. His message felt like that to me. It was long. It was so long I didn’t read it all. It was so long that I sent it back to him and I told him this story.

One of the best lessons in communication I ever received as a young man was given to me by a retired brigadier general, taught in the Doctoral Program at USC where I did my graduate work. He was an amazing professor and he always shared the most incredible stories and taught the most valuable lessons. The lesson, of course, was on management theory. He asked us to write a 10 page paper on a specific topic relating to management and to turn it in within the next couple of weeks.

There were only 12 students in the class, and we all beautifully showed up with the paper in hand two weeks later. We watched as he collected all of our papers and sat down at his desk in front of the class and started skimming through all of the submissions right there. He then stood up and handed them all back to us. He told us to come back next week with a five page paper on the same topic. He said, “Take out all of the fluff. Go to the heart of the issue and turn it in next week.”

We were furious. We were absolutely furious, but we did it. Next week, we came back in with five page papers. Then he went through the same routine. He sat down, looked at them, stood back up, handed them all back to us and said, “You can cut more. Make it two pages and turn it in next week.”

As you might guess, Priscilla, we were incredulous, but we did as we were told and we came back the following week with a two-page paper. And as you might guess, he looked at them, gave them all back one last time and said, “Now make it one page and bring it back next week along with your original paper.”

We were beyond annoyed. We were so upset. But we did as we were told. We came back the next week and we turned in both papers. The one page summary and the longer paper. He then shared what I think was one of the most valuable lessons of my academic training. He said, “During your career, you will be working for people who are incredibly busy. They may ask you for a report on an important topic for the company. They may not have the time to read your long, drawn-out papers going through detailed minutia covering you brilliant recommendations. I think he might have been a little sarcastic, but that is what he said.

He went on to say If you can learn to deobfuscate your writing and boil things down into a simple easy to digest document, busy people will respond better to your work. Always create an executive summary that bullet points the critical findings, the recommendations or advice and put that in the front of your longer report. So this will give the boss the chance to get an overview of the issue and then allow him or her to go deeper into your findings from the full report if they want to. He also suggested that your summary bullet points make reference to the relevant page, pages or paragraph that this issue is covered in the full report in case they want to dive in further.

This was to me incredible advice, and it has served me well over the years. Your communication doesn’t have to be War and Peace to be effective. Heck, the Gettysburg Address was only 272 words long. This podcast is longer than the Gettysburg Address. So Priscilla, this was a great lesson. I would love to chat with you about it for a moment. I hope it is a lesson for everyone listening to this podcast that then they are communicating with someone, especially someone who they believe is very busy, if they are communicating up within an organization or to somebody they respect, who is really, really, really busy: summarize.

You know, I think that is especially true in these days because I can only imagine what your email looks like. I can tell you that my email, just to get through everything, eliminate, delete, do this, do that and then read what I need to read, we just don’t have that much time.

No. There was a point. I am no longer the CEO. I am not running the day to day operation of the business, but I think the most emails I ever got in one year while I was actively running the company day to day – I am still working everyday, but in a different role as the spokesperson for the organization. The most emails I ever got In a year not counting spam was almost 40,000 emails.

So I get a lot of emails. Bullet point it to me. This isn’t about me, though. This is really about you, the listeners. When you are communicating with others, give them a summary. Sometimes I will send just a summary and say if they want more details,I will send more details. Certainly when I am talking to somebody who I know is really busy, I say that here is a summary. I have a lot more information if you want some more and I am happy to send it to you.

Sometimes they will reply back. This is really true when I worked with other organizations and I was trying to connect with my boss or superiors. I would say, here is my summary. I will give you more details if you want it. Sometimes they would write back and say no this is good for me and I agree, thank you. Other times, they would say yeah, send me the details. I would do that. I always got their attention with the summary,

So I would love to hear from BNI members as to what great recommendation or what experience do you have that has helped in your communication process with others? What techniques have you used to have your message heard effectively? For me, it was what this retired brigadier general taught me about always creating executive summaries, certainly in written communication. What techniques have you heard or learned over the years? I would love to hear it here on BNI Podcast. Any last thought, Priscilla?

Okay, thank you, Ivan. Well, I think that is if for this week. Thank you so much for the great information. For more of Ivan’s content, go to IvanMisner.com. Thank you so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice and we look forward to having you join us again next week for another exciting episode of the Official BNI Podcast.