In this article, I’m going to talk about the importance of communication and what it means for judges who wish to advance to Level Three. I’ll discuss what good communication skills are, why it’s important that you, as a Level Three candidate, should have these skills, examples of excellent communication (and, conversely, poor communication), and how to improve your ability to communicate.
Good Communication Skills
Let’s define good communication skills by function: an L3 candidate with adequate communication skills will be able to express themselves clearly, and in English, both when acting as a judge – particularly, as a Team Lead – at an event, and when engaging in discussion on the Internet (e.g., the Judge forums, IRC channels, social media).
A good communicator will be able to express themselves such that they are easily understood by judges worldwide, and to audiences with a broad range of experience: casual players, competitive players, new judges, and senior judges alike. They will be able to express complex concepts without creating confusion, and will also be sure to listen well when communicating with other judges, players, and staff.
Why this is Important
As an L3, your expertise and authority put you in a position where the things you say are often taken as fact. Newer judges will look to you to guide them and to answer their questions; the program leadership will expect you to be an effective messenger and educator for changes in rules and policy. This being the case, it is critical that you are able to express yourself well in order to avoid confusion and misinformation.
When judging at an event, you can’t expect every judge, player, and staff member to speak your language. English is the standard language of Magic, and while we don’t expect all L3s to speak fluently, you’ll still be expected to deliver information in a clear, efficient manner. Without the ability to communicate well, the potential for botched rulings and incorrect instructions grows exponentially.
An excellent communicator will express themselves with clarity and concision. When at an event, they will speak in a clear voice, at a measured pace, while enunciating properly. When speaking to others for whom English is not their native language, they will take care to avoid the use of idioms or slang, as these terms will likely be unfamiliar to their audience.
When communicating with people online, they will take care to use proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar in their writing. They will break long blocks of text into paragraphs to make their writing easier to read. They will also exercise good judgment in what they’re expressing; their writing will exclude insults, ridicule, or other forms of disrespect.
A poor communicator will rush themselves. They’ll speak too quickly, and not loudly enough. They won’t wait for acknowledgement from their audience before moving from one point to the next. Their tone will be uneven in both volume and pace, and they will give incomplete answers to questions, or give instructions without providing proper context.
A judge who communicates poorly on the Internet will not take care with their writing. It will be riddled with errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Capitalization may or may not occur and, if it does, may be applied inconsistently. Opinions will be presented as arguments, the tone of the writing may appear aggressive towards or dismissive of its audience, and readers may struggle to understand what the writer actually means.
How to Make it Better
Public speaking can be an enormously stressful experience. It is an act of vulnerability: the expression of one’s opinions toward an audience that may criticize them. If the speaker is not easily understood, they may feel insecure, assuming that it is their fault that their point did not come across clearly. Stress and anxiety are common and understandable reactions.
In Ingrid Lind-Jahn’s excellent article “Public Speaking for Judges,” she identifies some of the basic practices judges can implement to improve their communication: speak slowly, enunciate, and lower your pitch. It’s really okay if you get nervous while speaking to the public – it’s one of those things that few people like – and it’s equally okay for you to take your time when doing so. Forcing yourself to slow down will do a lot for your comfort; the more comfortable you are, the better you’ll do. If you have the opportunity to make notes on what you’re going to say, do so, but don’t write a script. It’ll make you sound robotic. Jot down a few bullet points, and touch on each of them as you speak.
The same applies with written communication: instead of hastily dashing off your opinion on something, take your time to fully consider what you’re saying. Spellcheck is absolutely your friend. The temptation to say something clever and witty is understandable, but your audience will definitely appreciate your additional care. Judges are a passionate and intelligent bunch, so tempers can flare when discussing contentious topics – resist the urge to give in to that.
Tying it all Together
When we think about good judging, we tend to focus on things like rules knowledge, or mentorship, or understanding policy. This is understandable – these are critical skills that frequently come into play while judging. However, all your knowledge and wisdom can’t help you if you don’t know how to get your points across, and that’s where communication comes into play.
When evaluating your communication skills in preparation for L3, it helps to slow down. Think about what you’re writing. Think about what you’re about to say. Taking a few moments to compose your message – and compose yourself – will return huge dividends when it comes time to communicate.