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Spring skiing is in full swing, so I thought I’d share three key lessons that communication professionals can apply from my Ski Patrol days. I first presented this lesson on a panel at the IABC Canada West Conference in Kelowna, BC. Whether you ski, snowboard or simply prefer the après ski activities, every communication professional can up their game by following these three universal pillars for success. As a bonus, the fourth tip at the end will actually improve both your physical and mental capacity too!


Video Transcript – Three Lessons Communicators can Learn from Ski Patrollers

00:12 We’re on the slope and it’s been a long day, only about 20 minutes to closing, and it’s been a slow day, which is a good thing for ski patrollers. What could go wrong, right? Well, Murphy’s law. As all the patrollers are thinking, “Hey, all the skiers and snowboarders, let’s get them off the hills, let’s comb the hills, make sure that no one’s left and then we can head down to the chalet ourselves, warm up, have a chat and then go home for the night.”
00:36 Well, just as those thoughts were going through our heads, I got a call in from the radio saying, “Hey, we’ve got an issue on this kind of steep and narrow hill.”, so asked me to go check it out. I get to the top of the hill, I take off my snowboard, plop it in the snow, make sure … as a sign for other skiers not to come down, there’s an issue happening. As I make my way to the scene, I take off my ski gloves, and I switch them onto rubber gloves, following protocol.
01:04 And all the time, I’m looking for clues, trying to assess the situation, trying to intake any type of information that’s gonna help me make a better decision as for what to do in the next step. Every situation is different and that’s why ski patrollers practice all the time nonstop. We practice … we go to each other houses and practices in our living rooms, in our kitchen floors if there’s not enough space there. We practice outside, we practice in the ski hut. We practice on the slopes. We’re always practicing, so when we need to really nail it in a high-pressure situation, we know we’ve done what it takes, and we can actually act effectively.
01:44 Here’s lesson number one business communicators. With ski patrollers it’s never trial by fire, and that’s a good thing, right? For communication professionals, it shouldn’t be trial by fire either. We need to practice and prepare for what might happen tomorrow, as a communication professional.

02:03 I was just speaking at a conference on crisis communications, and it was all about practicing, making those mistakes, answering those questions amongst your team and the leadership when you’ve got the virtue of time, not when you’re in a pressure cooker situation. That’s not the time to start practicing. If you’re a golfer, for example, you don’t want to start practicing your putting or your driving on the range just before. It’s too late by then, right? You’ve just got to go out and do the best you can.

02:31 The lesson here for business communicators is, what can we do maybe right after this video? What are the one, maybe two, maybe even three things that you can to today to help you prepare for better for tomorrow?

02:42 I approach the scene and I’m trying to collect as many clues as I can about what happened, how bad the damage might be, and so I talk to the young girl, she’s about 12 years old. Unfortunately it happens when kids are racing, someone loses control and crashes, and this is what happened. Their legs are tired, and they go down right at the end of the day. I’m trying to ask her questions and get feedback, but I’m also trying to get feedback from other audiences, maybe audiences that are influencers or a part of that scene, so I’m also talking to her friend, gathering as much information as I possibly can, so that I can take the best next step forward.

03:25 Thinking from the communicator standpoint, it’s kind of like taking the brief. I’m trying to ask the five W’s. What’s going on? Trying to assess and collect all the information I can, so that we’ve got an effective and an efficient strategy for a solution for this particular issue.

03:45 Lesson number two. As professional communicators, we all want to help, and that’s why many of us got into this profession. That’s a great thing, but we always need to make sure we’re taking the proper brief before we jump to a solution, or dole out advice.

03:59 In this instance, I was collecting information from the person that fell, this girl that fell and is lying in the snow, but I’m also looking at all the other people. If there were any bystanders, a friend that was racing, who didn’t fall, who still had a much clearer picture of what actually happened.

04:15 Just remember, get that brief. Look at all the sources, and in this case, it was both the person that fell, and her friend. That’s lesson number two.

04:23 I completed my full assessment, and I called for backup and the backboard. This young patient has head injuries, and there’s a good possibility that she’s either broken her neck and/or her back. I call up for backup, and what I need to do right now is instill trust and credibility with this patient, so I can somehow try to delay the onset of shock.

04:47 As additional patrollers arrive and help out, since I’m at the head of the patient, I’m calling the shots. We work together seamlessly as a team because we’ve practiced this. Now, no two scenarios are ever the same, in communications or ski patrolling, but if you practice enough, you can go with any minor adjustments, or sometimes major adjustments, that need to be undertaken.

05:07 Really, it was the communication between the team, the seamless communication between the team, that enabled us to get this girl on the backboard, down the slope, and into the waiting ambulance. After the ambulance departed, the team was tired, cold, hungry, and just wanted to go home, but we still had a job to do. We still had to go back up, comb all the hills, make sure there was no one else waiting for us, and after that was done, yes, we could go into the chalet and warm up a bit, but we really wanted to just decompress. However, the lead patroller came and we needed to sit down. We needed to have a conversation about what happened, and how we could improve for next time, because unfortunately, with a sport like skiing or snowboarding, there always is going to be a next time.

05:56 The third and final lesson for communication professionals: you just finished a project and your internal clients are itching for you to move forwards another project – but take the time to evaluate what you’ve done, so you can improve the next time you’re doing something. If we can’t evaluate, if we can’t measure, we can’t improve. Best practices for communication professionals is to take that time, regardless of how tight or how under pressure you are to move forwards with something else. Take the time, it’ll be well worth it, and we, as a communications team will improve. You might improve so much you might want to enter it into an IBC award. Who knows? But take that time to evaluate, it’s important.

06:35 Here’s number four, and a bonus, but really not so much related to communication professionals, but if you like skiing, or you like snowboarding, why not check out your local ski patrol team? At the slopes, you can just drop in, or go online and search for ski patrol in Canada, or Ontario, or wherever you happen to be. It’s a great organization. They do great work, and it’s really satisfying work. And you know what? You get to snowboard and ski at the same time, so life is pretty good.