Deanna Eckstein: Want a Gold Medal in Communication? Simplify.

Deanna Eckstein, Director of the Main Operations Center for the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games and second interviewee in our blog series, explains how you can coordinate better following one golden rule: simplify communication.

The recent Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games, hosted in Vancouver, were the largest Special Olympics Games in Canadian history. With over 2,000 athletes, coaches, and officials, over 1,000 volunteers, and 11 venues, seamless coordination was key to the success of the event. 

Enter Deanna Eckstein. Eckstein was part of the Organizing Committee for this event, serving as the Director of the C3 (Command, Control, and Communications) and of the Main Operations Center (MOC) for three years.

Deanna Eckstein, Director of the C3 and MOC for the Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games (Photo courtesy of Deanna Eckstein)
Photo courtesy of Deanna Eckstein, Director of the C3 and the MOC for the Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games

From 6:30 am to 11 pm during the week of the Games, Eckstein ran daily meetings and issued nightly reports, spending most of her day acting as a “connector” for the event:

“Throughout the day, the MOC monitored the different competitions and had our finger on the pulse of various issues. During the day we were getting a lot of phone calls asking for information or to coordinate the team to solve issues. So, really, the MOC was like a connector. Like, ‘You need this? Here, you have to talk to this person,’ kind of thing. We made sure that everyone was communicating with the right people for fast decisions and efficient operations.”

With so many moving parts, the Games had the potential to become really complicated. One day, there were three serious medical emergencies in three different venues within the same hour. There was also a volunteer shortage that required a triage mentality as priority areas were decided. Throughout the Games, Eckstein shied away from communicating through email, instead using options such as Lua and radios to help the MOC keep Games operations running as smoothly as possible:

“We tend not to use emails at game time because it’s not efficient. There’s no way you have time to sit down during the Games, check your email, and respond to somebody. You’d never be like, ‘Hey, I need a decision on this’ and email someone. You would call them, because you need an immediate answer.”

This desire to streamline communications plays into a larger sense of frustration with the dichotomous always-on/follow-up culture we now find ourselves in. Technology will continue to be the biggest game changer in event management, and Eckstein sees pros and cons to that:

“A friend who worked in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games recently said that that was actually the easiest event to work on because it was before events had cell phones and email. In some ways, technology complicates things because now you may have a cell phone to answer, a Games phone, a radio, your email -- all these things you're trying to balance.

But in other ways, technology is great and makes things easier. At the 2000 Sydney Games, the staff probably solved issues on the spot, alone, because they didn’t have time to go make a landline phone call.”

Running the Special Olympics provided Eckstein with a unique opportunity to reflect further on how we communicate with each other. Even beyond technology, our communication can be simplified more to boost understanding:

“It's very interesting and rewarding to work with athletes with intellectual disabilities because you have to be very clear and concise, otherwise they may not understand you. It's actually a good lesson in general for people to communicate better: slow down and keep it simple and concise. Your message is going to get across much more easily and faster if you aren’t trying to be fancy.”

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