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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy Years Five and Six in Review – “The Best Advice I’ve Given Others”

After nearly six years, I’m still surprised by how useful the insights shared by our Common Sense Colloquy participants are for my daily work. The inspiration and information each participant imparts is both helpful and encouraging and reminds me of what a great resource this series is for communicators.


This is my second post in our Years Five and Six in Review series and it includes responses from our sixteen participants about the best advice each participant has given to others. As you’ll see, the answers are direct, descriptive and definitive. I hope they will be helpful to you.


Huge thanks to Erin, Lionel, Patrice, Brian, Carmella, Mazen, Lisa, Guido, Tanya, Bryan, Blaine, Shelley, Nathaniel, Elena Joy, Rob and Aidan for sharing their terrific advice.


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



“Play to your strengths, especially when communicating in front of large crowds. If you’re naturally funny or charismatic, use that. If you have a natural gravitas or can convey messages with great empathy, lean into it. Don’t try to be something you’re not because you think that’s what people want. If you deliver as your authentic self, you’ll feel more confident, and people will be more inclined to listen.”



“Be a real person and dispense with highly scripted public talking points. A group-edited comment prepared by an organization for a person to deliver almost always becomes bland and uninteresting. If the point is to be ignored which can sometimes be a legitimate goal, then blandness is ok. But if the goal is to persuade people and be heard, you have to make it interesting for it to be printed and read. So, with people on my staff and people I work with, I suggest general strong points to make and vulnerable or sensitive points to avoid, but I try to avoid scripting actual language and encourage them to put it in their own words. I do the same with my own speaking. I never read speeches or testimony. I speak from bulleted lists of points to make then try to speak naturally and conversationally.”



“In my Inclusive Leadership framework, one of the pillars is “Non-Binary Thinking”. This is the idea that there is no one right way to pursue inclusive leadership or allyship. All perspectives and realities are valid. We can let go of the “shoulds” and use that energy to focus solely on impact.


“When we start hearing ourselves or our teams say things like “I think the right way to do this event or launch or campaign, is this…” or “Should we position it like this?”, we know we’re steeped in Binary Thinking and it’s not sustainable.

“When we instead get very clear on our impact, we can release the shoulds through Non-Binary Thinking and pursue our desired impact with unrelenting focus. So in a nutshell, my best common sense communications advice would be 'When we let go of all the shoulds, what becomes available?”'



“Well, I often do start with “don’t drool.”


“But beyond that: Meet people where they are. Don’t speak to an audience at the annual UN climate talks the same way you speak to a conference of industrial and manufacturing representatives. It’s on you to do the homework on how to draw the connection between your goals and their work.”



“Publicity is a means to an end, not an end unto itself,” from the first Big Idea seminar I gave.



"Give people a path forward. It’s pretty easy in climate to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and maybe by a perception that it’s too late. Both of those discourage action. It’s much more effective to say, ‘yes, it’s a challenge – but here’s a next step. And then there’s a step after that. And then another…’



"Seek to communicate in a way to allows you to find common ground based on commonly held values. The purpose of communicating shouldn’t be to prove you’re right it should be to connect with people. Once that connection is made, great things can happen from there."



"Never lie or deflect, especially when you’re in a difficult situation. Honesty is always the best policy, even if it’s painful. Once you’ve admitted to a problem, it allows you to apologize and explain how you will do better and why you want to do better."



"To communicate effectively we must be clear about what needs to be transmitted to succeed in any given objective, and although there are several ways to achieve that end, my favorite is to break down complex ideas into simple allegories, as by doing so we will bring gains in three different fronts. Firstly, we will exercise creativity, as making the complex easy to understand requires us to train in the art of storytelling, which stimulates the right hemisphere of our brain by creating new connections; then, facing the challenge of simplifying an intricate concept into a simple and effective narrative while keeping its essence, will help us encounter new questions and angles about the original concept, which creates a productive self-generated feedback that may provide improvements and refreshing ideas to it; last but definitely not least is the understanding achieved by the audience by facilitating mental associations that help them process information in a comprehensive and perdurable way, as every time they think about that concept or idea, they will go back to the story that helped them understand it in the first place."



"My golden rule is always ‘be, do and then say’. As communicators, we must ground our communications first in who the organization is / what makes it tick / what’s its purpose. We then need to work within the organization to demonstrate commitment and show that meaningful things are getting done. When we are grounded in purpose and action, we can then do amazing things from a communications and marketing perspective. This sequence is especially important with today’s consumer. I think today’s consumer is savvier than any before and if a company gets its ‘say’ ahead of its ‘do’, consumers will call them out!"



"Other than listening, my advice would be to speak less, and keep things simple. Being calculated with your words is not only prudent, but it is also a more effective way to communicate. Being concise and relevant ensures your audience is focused on the message."



"Not much different than a good investigative journalist, when we get to the meat of the story, it takes immense courage to tell the truth to our internal leaders and our external stakeholders.


"Exceptional communications have always and will always shape history, for better or for worse. We feel behind the scenes as communicators but are the messenger whose names are attached to that history. To exist tomorrow, we need to be on the right side of history today.


"I’m a big fan of word origins, and the origin of the word history comes from the Greek words histor (“learned, wise man”) and historia (finding out, narrative). To rid our profession of the “spin doctor” narrative for good, we must become learned and wise through research, data, immersion, business savvy and insatiable curiosity."



"Be brief."



"The same advice. Tell the truth, honor your commitments and be kind and generous. This is what creates success in a communications career and in life."



"Communicate proactively and far in advance. Procrastination in communications, often due to fear of confrontation or disappointment, could turn a salvageable situation into an irreversible one as time passes. This advice could be especially applicable in principal-agent or client-manager types of relationships."



"It’s helpful to know what tactics other organizations use to communicate policy, but only as a foundation. What other ways are there to get your information across that really consider who your audience is? Lots of Hill staffers, for example, are in their 20s and 30s. When I was at Third Way, I started the energy team Instagram and Suzy and I started doing these short, intentionally homemade YouTube videos that involved extremely amateur claymation and similar tactics. At C180, our newsletters often include memes and leverage a lot of unique graphics and in-group language. We write jokes. Just because everyone else is only doing polished whitepapers and webinars doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to get your message across."






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