• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy Year Four in Review – “The Best Advice I’ve Given Others”

Every year at this time for the past three years, we have highlighted the best of the best from our Common Sense Colloquy series: key advice and perspective on communications from a diverse group of energy, environmental and LGBTQ leaders who participated in our monthly Q&A series.


In this, the second post in our three-part series marking the end of the fourth year of the Common Sense Colloquy, we’re sharing insight from twelve influential communications and advocacy leaders on the best communications advice they’ve given to others.


As with yesterday’s question on the best communications advice they’ve received, the answers our special guests shared with us reflect both common sense and helpful insight from a diverse group of people representing a broad cross-section of business, organization and advocacy sectors.


We are so thankful and appreciative of the time Annise, Hugh, Judi, Stacey, Torey, Armond, Sheila, Arvind, Richard, Candace, Bob and Jessica took to participate in Year Four of the Common Sense Colloquy. In the second year of the COVD-19 pandemic, their advice and perspective was helpful in navigating our multiple ongoing global challenges. And, as I think you’ll see from the excerpts below, it’s smart insight that will stand the test of time as well.


Question: What’s the best common sense communications advice you’ve given to others?

  • Annise Parker, LGBTQ Victory Fund: Authenticity and integrity are important in politics – especially in local politics. Perhaps at times you feel you need to be less direct or obfuscate, but people see through that. In speeches, debates and interviews, I say stay true to yourself. Be direct in where you stand. Answer the questions that come your way. Voters will reward that. Authenticity is invaluable on the campaign trail and is difficult to regain once you lose it

  • Hugh Welsh, DSM North America: Be authentic and speak from your experience. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and never compromise your integrity.

  • Judi Greenwald, Nuclear Innovation Alliance: Find your own voice – this can be hard but it’s important because each of us has a unique contribution to make. Think about what you’re going to say and try it on people you trust before you say it. Read stuff you write out loud, and write down stuff you say, to make sure you know what you sound like and that it sounds like you. Practice presentations before you give them, and when you moderate discussions, make sure to keep within time limits and leave time for conversation.

  • Stacey Stevenson, Family Equality: Speak up and speak your truth even when it’s not popular.

  • Torey Carter-Conneen, American Society of Landscape Architects: Listen first. Speak later.

  • Armond Cohen, Clean Air Task Force: Focus on the audiences that are reachable, and don’t waste time on folks who are deeply dug in. Also, and somewhat in contradiction to what I just said, despite all the recent scholarship around the power of culture in cognition, never give up on fact- and evidence-based arguments. There is no such thing as pure objectivity, and it is certainly out of intellectual fashion today, but striving for it is better than the alternative – which is just an endless tribal war of competing memes.

  • Sheila Hollis, USEA: Effective communication is the foundation of good relationships. In the many different types of relationships we as humans have - from our significant others and family members, to our colleagues in the office, to someone as important as an IT worker assisting you on the phone - good communication and simple kindness is always the underlying factor in a successful and fruitful relationship. Good communication enhances trust, cooperation, and ultimately, the strength of the relationship and the benefit of the people and the entity with which they work. Regarding the energy arena - the industry is evolving steadily and rapidly. There is no doubt that reducing carbon emissions and climate change has come to the forefront of public debate. A majority of energy companies know that there is growing public concern about climate change in 2021. That’s the reality. Now, with the new administration engaging deeply on an array of these issues, commitments and actions will work to reduce carbon emissions over the next four years. It is not the U.S. alone that must carry the burden and much intense work lies ahead to obtain any steps toward consensus. It will take collaboration across the entire spectrum of the energy industry to decarbonize the energy sector. My best ‘common sense’ advice: Work together and respect one another to provide energy to parts of a still needy world and at the same time work towards the goal of achieving massive decarbonization.

  • Arvind Manocha, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts: Pay attention to your communication, in all forms. So much of the interactions in the work place are not about rocket science or particularly arcane subjects. The difference between two different people making a similar point about the same subject is often simply in the communication. The material is often a commodity; the presentation of that material is where you can add value and distinguish yourself. I find more and more that those that are more apt to be hired, and then more apt to find success, are those who value the skill of communication.

  • Richard Kiy, Institute of the Americas: Given my diverse international experience, the best “common sense” advice about communications I’ve given to others is to avoid having your message lost in translation. While English has become the predominant language in international business, it's often easy to overlook the fact that of the approximately 7.9 billion people across the globe only about 17% of the population or 1.35 billion people speak English. Also, for people living outside of the core Anglosphere (e.g. US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand), the majority are not native English speakers. More often than not, when communicating beyond the Anglosphere, a foreign language other than English is required. Here, it is easy for things to get lost in translation. Just as English has many sub-variations (e.g. British English, Canadian English, Australian English) and dialects as in the case of India, Nigeria and Jamaica, this is also true for other languages. As a case in point, the Spanish language has many variations (Mexican Spanish, LATAM Spanish, European Spanish or Iberian). Grammar, words and phrases can differ across the Spanish speaking world. In fact, some words or phrases can be deemed inappropriate or offensive in some countries but not in others. To avoid, offending your readers, I will not go into details. Other times, a translation simply does not make any sense. A classic example of this is the Chevy Nova. The word, No Va, in Spanish means that it “does not go.” Not the best name for a car. Hence, General Motors’ introduction of the Nova in the Spanish speaking was a flop. In my years working in Latin America, I have seen various examples of marketing and communications mis-steps by American companies that have retained the help of a Spanish language translator that did not have a good grounding of local idioms or phrases. Similarly, an otherwise qualified translator can be out of their league when asked to translate technical language in a specialized field -- like medicine, engineering or policy related topics. I have learned this the hard way with translators that I have hired over the years. Also, sometimes translators come with their own agenda. Here, I have a funny story to share. Early in my professional career I worked for the San Diego Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at a time when the region was actively working to attract foreign direct investment from East Asia. In an effort to attract in-bound investment and corporate relocations from South Korea, the EDC hired a local firm to translate their marketing material into Korean. Meeting with potential investors in Seoul, my boss was asked who Mr. Kim was? My boss was baffled. It turns out Mr. Kim was the translator who artfully placed ads in each and every page of EDC’s marketing brochure promoting his own business along information on the virtues of San Diego as the preferred designation for Korean investors. So, here a key take away is that when translating material from English into a foreign language it is important to trust but also verify. As with any marketing or communications campaign in this country, when working overseas it is critical to do one’s homework and craft messaging that is targeted to the localized community or region in question. Otherwise, things will simply get lost in translation.

  • Candace Hamana, IPPRA: Work on increasing your emotional intelligence because it will make you a better decision-maker, a more effective problem-solver, and an impactful leader.

  • Bob Keefe, E2: Tell the truth. Dedicate the time to prepare in advance. And don’t forget to smile!

  • Jessica Lovering, Good Energy Collective: Always assume that the people you disagree with are acting in good faith. They might not be (especially on Twitter), but by assuming they’re presenting their honest selves, you will have a much more productive dialogue. Take the time to understand what people value and what’s motivating their concerns and opposition.



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