BSides Charm City 2015 – The Power of Effective Communication

The scene on April 11th, 2015 at Howard Community College’s Gateway Building – Charles I. Ecker Business Training Center was packed with faded computer event t-shirts, beards, the occasional pirate hat, yet some of the most successful people in the information security industry were in attendance.

SealingTech's Technical Director, Security Engineering, Aron Hubbard and Security Engineer, Caleb Kinney
SealingTech’s Technical Director, Security Engineering, Aron Hubbard and Security Engineer, Caleb Kinney

The talks showcased at the first BSides Charm City were uniquely defensive in nature, a nod to the Washington D.C. metro area business model. Bsides humbly began as an outlet for rejected talks at the popular information security conference Black Hat in 2009 and has grown to over 50 annual events hosted in cities throughout the world by information security community members. From the enigmatic keynote speaker, Dr. Kryptia, to the ardent malware hunter, Tony Robinson, each speaker cautioned, inspired and challenged attendees to collaborate and contribute to the information security community environment and  discussed emerging technologies including cyber defensive techniques and a heavy emphasis on cloud storage.

For myself, the most notable discussion was a heartfelt, Jägermeister fueled keynote from Dave Marcus, the Director of Threat Research and Intelligence and Chief Architect for McAfee®’s Federal Advanced Programs Group. Marcus provided unpretentious life lessons as a fellow security professional, stressing a focus on building professional relationships and effective communication. Personally, I took away three major points of advice for ensuring proficient communication:

[numbers_sections number=”1″ title=”LEARN TO TELL A STORY” animation_delay=”0″ animate=”” ]Marcus stressed that you should be able to communicate your message with anyone from a toddler to the CEO. He emphasized that storytelling creates a personal connection with your audience, which fosters motivation and inspiration. From that, I took away that any chance you have to speak about a project should be a time spent captivating and persuading the audience. Within the everyday hustle and bustle of busy schedules and demanding deadlines, it is crucial to get your message across in such a way that excites and vocalizes the individual. If they aren’t listening, then we can’t begin to accomplish our shared goals.  Marcus’s ability to tell a great story during his keynote exhibits how a story about story telling can inspire and serve as an example for individuals like you and me to be better. [/numbers_sections]

[numbers_sections number=”2″ title=”DON’T MISS AN OPPORTUNITY” animation_delay=”0″ animate=”” ]Marcus underscored the importance of having a presentation of your project ready in case an opportunity arises whereby you are sharing an elevator ride with a General or CEO. He stressed that it is YOUR responsibility to communicate effectively to the people that you are trying to communicate to, achieving this by cognitively adapting YOUR communication to a diverse audience. As many can relate to when walking the halls (myself included), it is common to pass important decision makers in our industry. But, by reconsidering the average pass of a colleague into a potential opportunity to pitch ideas, we are able to ensure there is not a missed chance. [/numbers_sections]

[numbers_sections number=”3″ title=”CHANGE THE DELIVERY” animation_delay=”0″ animate=”” ]Marcus spoke about the ability to change your level of communication to match your audience, not by “dumbing” down the message, but by the way the content of the message is communicated. Nowhere does that ring more true than in my role as a defense cyber security contractor, where I am tasked with providing information to be briefed from engineers to project managers or from Majors to Generals which ultimately may impact vital decision points. As Dave Marcus remarked during his lecture, “It’s not being technically right that matters. It’s the ability to tell people why something is important.” By continually striving to keep the intended message clear and concise, you make sure that what is attributed to you is perceived accurately, for perception is everything.[/numbers_sections]

Final Thoughts

It is sufficient to say that the BSides Charm City 2015 fostered an atmosphere that encompasses the learning, collaboration and inclusiveness of like-minded security professionals. The event was infused with tactical and strategic presentations by today’s leaders in information security focused on ideas and concepts that are on the horizon in information security. I think the attendees are better information security professionals for having attended and I am looking forward to what the second annual BSides Charm City brings to the table in 2016.  Lastly, as members of the information security community we have the obligation to ensure the interconnected world is a safe and secure space. This is completed by effectively informing decision makers. So, I ask you -are you ensuring that your message is being conveyed as intended?

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