As an enabler of nearly all societal functions, energy fundamentally affects all our lives, making conveying information regarding it critical, and therefore also a key component in being a successful leader in the energy sphere. From delivering a message about blackouts and large-scale oil spills to those affected to providing information about new wind farm plans to the local community, or telling about an innovative breakthrough in hydrogen production; society, citizens, and other stakeholders need to be kept in the loop, especially amid war and green transition raising new questions, worries and thoughts that need to be addressed. However, due to its complex nature, it also requires a lot from the messenger. Besides understanding the technical, political-regulatory, and scientific frameworks, and being able to communicate those accurately and timely, the message also often needs to be put into a wider societal context and broken down to a level where all stakeholders can process the information, often without the in-depth expert knowledge of industry actors. In addition to this, the preferred message must also often be communicated in a way that catches the media’s attention, if you desire to reach large audiences.
To help Future Energy Leaders navigate and tackle these and related issues, a workshop was hosted on the topic of how to communicate as an energy leader, gathering actors with different perspectives in a seminar to provide insight into energy communications, culminating in casework where the future leaders could utilize these learned skills.
The event was held as a hybrid event, with participation both online and at city-owned utility Helen’s premises in Helsinki. The young talents got insight on how to navigate the two-way dependency between media and the energy industry, communicating as an energy expert in the wake of a crisis, the do’s and don’ts when it comes to crisis communication, as well as some rhetorical and other tips linked to performing a speech.
The seminar began with the perspective of traditional media and the news threshold when it comes to energy topics. Jarno Hartikainen, a journalist at Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, cleared up some common misconceptions about the inner workings of a newsroom and talked about “the gap” often present between the perspectives of a news agency seeking newsworthy stories industry trying to get their message through, as well as the role of chance and who-happens-to-answer-the-phone when covering urgent news stories. He also spoke about the importance of framing more niched technical and expert findings into a wider context, to make stories more relevant and captivating for a larger news audience.
After a stint in the newsroom, we turned to energy expert communications. Jukka Leskelä, CEO of lobby group Energiateollisuus, talked about the importance of accurate yet rapid communication in the wake of a large crisis. Leskelä talked about the topic through the example of communications in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He reflected on how the role of energy experts is in flux sometimes, forcing you to suddenly pivot into new areas. He spoke about how his organization took on a role broader than that of traditional lobbying, to fill the void of information amid public worries about what the invasion would mean to a country with sizable energy imports from Russia. He also noted that while sometimes it is very time-sensitive to get information out, you should still make sure you are communicating things you actually know and not speculating. He also reminded the listeners to give communications a personal touch and feel, to increase relatability. This way you can make sure you can stand behind your message as a person as well.
Next, the Future Energy leader got the 101 of crisis communications and how to act and work when being in contact with media, from Fredrik Palmén, a consultant at communications agency Tekir. He explained how crisis communication is, ideally, a process that stretches far beyond managing the crisis at hand and surviving interview situations with media, which also consists of things like building a team, controlling information flows, assessing the aftermath, and learning as a leader from the crisis. As part of his 10-point checklist when it comes to crisis communication, he also gave an often forgotten, yet crucial practical tip: to keep your blood sugar levels up before media engagements to avoid making unnecessarily snide comments, and reminded that internal communications in an organization quickly becomes external.
The final presentation at the workshop was held by Unna Lehtipuu, partner of public relations firm Framilla, on how to deliver an impactful speech and the importance of being articulate. She pointed out how the process starts with building trust and gave pointers on how to ensure good verbal online communication – an often overlooked topic despite the increasing amount of online engagements – and creating a physical presence by focusing also on non-verbal communications, besides following the classic ethos, logos, pathos when it comes to delivering and building a good speech. She also reminded us in line with other speakers to remember our audience, especially when it comes to very technical stuff, and not let “tribal language” or the use of jargon diminish the impact of your speech and message.
After the presentations, the future leaders got to put their freshly acquired communication skills to work through some casework. In groups, they took on the role of either the sustainability manager or some other media-facing role in an organization phasing an environmental crisis in the form of oil spill related to the company’s operations. In the hypothetical scenario, the company was financially responsible for the damage and also needs to repair the damage as is possible, but due to the nature of the accident, the bigger threat was the potential damage to the company’s image and trying to navigate the onslaught of media attention and outrage.