What Air Travel Can Teach Us About Communication

By Hinda Mitchell
June 16, 2016

I've been spending a fair amount of time on airplanes in 2016. (In fact, I'm writing this from a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet, and we've now been approved to use our portable electronic devices.) My travels got me thinking about my airport and in-flight experiences, and how they mirror many of the experiences our agency team has in communications planning and execution.

  1. Expect the unexpected. Flights get delayed. Weather problems occur. Crews don't show up. In communications, like air travel, you need to anticipate the unexpected. While as communicators we can write the best plans and execute them flawlessly – we can't predict everything. Preparedness means planning for what happens when things don't go as planned. Ask others to "shoot holes" in your perfect plan. Find your "devil's advocate" and use him or her to help you anticipate what could happen.
  2. Make the connection. There is nothing worse than missing a connection at the airport. It's even worse when you're sitting on the tarmac watching it happen in real-time. Take the time to target your audiences; then evaluate your communications efforts as you execute. Did you reach those whom you wished to reach? Did they hear the messages you were sharing? The best campaign makes no connection if the right audiences never hear it.
  3. There's usually a screamer. We've all had the flight with the screaming child. Communicating has them too. We call this the 80-10-10 rule. The two 10s are the screamers – those audiences at both ends of the spectrum who are the noisiest. Target messages and tactics at the 80 percent in the middle – that's where you'll find the best results – not in converting the screamers.
  4. It may get uncomfortable at times. What made that person think eating stinky Chinese food on the plane was a good idea? Why are we often seated by that person with an unusually bad case of flatulence? Communications does not always go smoothly. When things get uncomfortable, shift gears, or even take a break if you need to. Don't let an uncomfortable moment take you off course.
  5. Pack lightly. Over-packed suitcases are hard to lug through airports. They often don't fit in the overhead compartment. Take a look at your current communications programming. Does it fit? Is it more than what you need? Ask yourself honestly if you've packed the right things in your communications "suitcase". Sometimes less is more.
  6. The moving sidewalk will come to an end. So your program is on the right track. Things are moving forward swimmingly. And then all of a sudden, the sidewalk ends. Whether your latest campaign is completed or just taking a new direction – always look ahead and think about what's next. Will you be headed the right way when you're walking on your own once more?
  7. It's all about getting from Point A to Point B. While air travel can be grueling, so can executing a communications campaign. As the trip (or the plan) is coming together, remember this: it's all about using the right strategies to achieve your objectives. Whether your destination is business or personal, staying focused on the desired outcome is critical.
  8. The sky is the limit. Let your most innovative ideas take flight. Whether it's for a client, your company or a volunteer effort, don't be afraid to fly higher. While common tactics still deliver results, those who excel as communicators embrace innovation and shoot high. In addition to the expected, try something new. Maybe it's a new social media strategy, or perhaps taking the conversation into an emerging medium, either way, consider giving something new a try.