March President’s Message

What'd I Say?
Alan Sealls, NWA President 2018

One of the early music hits of the late Ray Charles was “What'd I Say.” Everyone remembers the part where he says, “Ooh,” and the Raelettes repeat, “Ooh,” and then he says, “Aah,” and they repeat, “Aah.” That was simple communication. 

In addition to my full-time job as a weather communicator on TV, I teach an introductory weather broadcasting course at the University of South Alabama. One of my recent assignments was for the class to compare the NWA and AMS broadcast seal certifications. 

One student handed in a comparison of just the seal logos. I was perplexed. Was he trying to be clever, making up for failing to complete the assignment on time? That sounds like something I would have done in my college days! As I read and re-read his comparison, debating how many tens of points to yank off, I realized that he had actually thought the task was to compare the seal logos. 

While the original assignment was written in the syllabus as a comparison of seal requirements, the student was absent the day that I had spoken in detail of the comparison in class. He followed my last written instruction, which was “compare the seals.” I ended up taking only a few points off once I admitted to myself that I could have been a better communicator. 

"What we’ve got here is failure to communicate." That’s a line from the 1967 movie "Cool Hand Luke." Communication is a two-way street. The failure was partially mine. 

That same week, I was chatting with a co-worker about job contracts and I told him that a colleague had just re-signed. When I heard “reezined” come out of my mouth, I realized it might have been misunderstood. I restated it slowly as “re-signed” because there’s a big difference between re-signing and resigning! 

In 2005 when Hurricane Dennis approached the central Gulf Coast, the governor of Alabama issued a mandatory evacuation “for all of Mobile County and Baldwin County south of I-10.” Was that all of Mobile County, and then only Baldwin County south of I-10? Was it all of both counties south of I-10? In that case, should “all” have been left out? A missing or misplaced comma changes the communication. 

Millions of people saw recently how a test message coded by a computer system and decoded by another computer system or a human can result in miscommunication. 

Our NWA mission statement references "…Excellence in Weather Forecasting, Communication and Service" for the benefit of society. As professionals, if we don’t communicate our assessments and forecasts well, the user may not benefit and may even pay a penalty. Effective communication happens when the message is interpreted by the recipient as the sender intended. Maybe the only way to really know if your message is received properly is to ask the recipient, “What’d I say?” 

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