Star wars themed bobble heads in a row

Don't be a Bobble-head: The Importance of Speaking and Writing in Cybersecurity

Once the reporter and cameraman were gone, my Lieutenant said to me, “Good job Frank, but why were you moving your head like that?”

Frank Domizio

Two of the most important soft skills in cybersecurity are communicating via the written word and the spoken word.  As a SOC analyst, pen tester, security engineer, or CISO, you have important data that needs to be communicated to other analysts, your bosses, business owners and the Board of Directors.  Well communicated information can help your business leaders make decisions to better serve your customers and make more money for the company, and isn’t that why everyone is here?    

With that said, many of us have been working on our scripting, command-line-fu, firewall programming, and many other skills that got us to where we are today.  Most of us did not get into cybersecurity to become famous writers or orators.  So the question is… how do you develop these skills?  Oddly enough, the answer to that question is the same as the answer I gave to police recruits when they asked me how to get better at push-ups.  Do more push-ups.  

That’s right if you want to be a better writer, you have to write.  If you want to be a better speaker, you have to speak.  If I may digress for a minute, I’d like to tell you about the first time I did a TV interview.  I worked in the public information office for the Philadelphia Police Department.  We were doing some cool stuff with social media and one of the local news stations wanted to interview me about it.  I was extremely nervous, all my family and friends would see this on the 6pm news, but my Lieutenant thought it would get our work good exposure, so we said yes.  They came into our office, set up a camera, and started shooting and asking questions.  After a few minutes I felt more comfortable, I had decent answers for their questions, I even pulled off a little live demo of our site.  The interview concluded, and I felt pretty good about myself… for about 35 seconds.  

Once the reporter and cameraman were gone, my Lieutenant said to me, “Good job Frank, but why were you moving your head like that?”  He knew I was nervous and I thought he was giving me some good-natured ribbing.  NOPE!  When I finally saw the video, my head bounced around like a giveaway at a Sunday afternoon baseball game.  I looked ridiculous.  

Thankfully, the reporter edited it to minimize embarrassment, and I survived.  I also learned I never want to look like a bobblehead on the evening news again.  So I began to work on it.  I agreed to do more interviews.  I volunteered to speak at conferences and to community groups.  It got better.  You are going to make mistakes, you are going to embarrass yourself, you are going to mess up, and you are going to get better.  Keep practicing.

Here are a few tips to keep in your mind when you’re speaking or writing:

  • Use plain language.  The central tenant of communication is having the receiver of the information understand what you’re saying.  You need to speak and write like you’re explaining things to your grandmother (unless your grandmother is also a cybergeek).
  • Be aware of body gesticulations (see above example).
  • Minimize filler words.  In your writing you don’t want to say, “I endeavored to saunter into the enormously large data processing facility and installed the 10u server which delivers printing services to the enterprise” when you can say “I racked the server.”  In the spoken word, you want to be aware of umms, ahhs, errs, and the like.

Very few people are born with the gift of being great communicators.  You don’t need to be Hemmingway or Lincoln.   Find yourself a mentor that can give you honest feedback and a few pointers.  Stay the course, keep at it, and most importantly, give yourself some grace.