• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy One Year Later – “The Best Communications Advice I’ve Received”

Updated: Mar 3, 2019


One year ago, I launched a new series called the Common Sense Colloquy. The idea was to ask notable energy and environmental leaders from a variety of different fields for their insight on communications based on their own experience and expertise. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I knew that if I asked smart people to share their wisdom I’d at least get some interesting insight. By grounding the series in “common sense,” I wanted to identify simple, sensible feedback that would initiate an ongoing dialogue about smart communications on what can be challenging topics.

One year later, I’m proud – and a bit humbled – to say that we have succeeded. The insight shared by our participants has been nothing short of brilliant. Each of our twelve participants has shared useful, relevant advice and perspective that can be applied to many types of communications challenges. That said, reading twelve blog posts about any topic can be a bit daunting so I’m going to pull out highlights from each participant over the next three posts and link to each person's full Q&A below for your further reading.

First up, I’m sharing our participant’s answers to the question: “What’s the best common sense communications advice you’ve received?” Here we go:

  • Marcene Mitchell, International Finance Corporation: "Don’t forget to listen! We tend to think of communications as a one-way stream. Real opportunities can grow in the space we allow for dialogue. It might seem counterintuitive, but this also involves paying attention to what’s being left unsaid."

  • Bill Richardson: "The best 'common sense' advice about communications that I’ve received came from a New Mexico Native American constituent (Navajo): 'Look me in the eye and tell me the truth, good or bad.'”

  • Melanie Kenderdine, Energy Futures Initiative: "I’ve learned a lot by working closely with Secretary Moniz for over 20 years. He has a unique ability to take the most complicated energy challenges and topics and lay out options and solutions in clear, concise and coherent ways – an unusual skill for a theoretical physicist! Recently, I joined the Secretary and my colleague Joe Hezir in an op-ed about helping to finance new energy infrastructure projects using the Department of Energy’s existing loan program authority – the focus of op-eds on essential points in a concise format can have significant impact. I am also a firm believer in “pictures saying a thousand words.” I attend many, many conferences, workshops and forums. I dislike it when people put their entire speeches on slides, bullet-by-illegible-bullet; or show detailed graphs with small type and invisible legends that audiences can neither read nor comprehend as slides flash by. I spend a lot of time creating pictures that effectively communicate key issues, concepts and reality-based solutions to our climate, economic and security needs."

  • John DiStasio, Large Public Power Council: "Active listening before communicating is critical to a message hitting its mark. Also, brevity is important. If something can be communicated and understood with a simple and concise message, then a more extensive and complicated one isn’t necessarily helpful."

  • Shelley Fidler, Van Ness Feldman: "Never assume that a policymaker knows everything they need to choose to be interested and informed about something you care about. And never assume that the knowledge you have is immutable and guaranteed to get you where YOU want to go. Discussions with elected officials, appointed executive branch officials and the staff that support their work are extremely important to arrive at mutual interest and understanding of complex issues."

  • Julio Friedmann, Carbon Wrangler: "It’s not “dumbing down” to distill your points to the core information in a way the audience can believe. Many points can be made in 10 seconds or less. Keep it really brief!"

Smart, huh? Yes, common sense is, well, common. But sometimes – as is the case here – it can be remarkably relevant. I hope our Colloquy participants have given you insight that will help your work. They have certainly helped me.

Tomorrow, we’ll share our participant’s answers to the question: “What’s the best common sense communications advice you’ve given to others?”



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