Panel discussions, roundtables, and charity car washes, oh my! We had a great time at the 2018 Northwest Communications and Energy Innovations Conference last week. As we get ready for our communicators’ workshop next week, we want to share some of our favorite moments from the #2018NIC.

From the Top

Utility leader panelists, from left, Scott Peters, Rollie Miller, Marc Farmer, and Scott Corwin.

A utility manager panel, led by Public Power Council Executive Director Scott Corwin, talked about the importance of communication, both online and in the office.

“When the guy in Kansas found the bobcat on the line, there was a horrible backlash against him, the co-op, and his family,” says Scott Peters, chief executive officer at Columbia REA, Washington. “We took time to talk about that in our staff meetings. We can’t tell staff what they can and can’t post on personal social media. All we can do is share what we know the reactions might be, talk about best practices and what we’d like staff to do.”

Rollie Miller, general manager at Vigilante Electric Cooperative, Montana, sent all but three of his staff to a full day of communication training through his statewide association.

“They learned how your word choice and body language matters,” says Miller. “You can’t train people for every situation; I ask staff to focus on being honest and respectful when responding to comments.”

Wondering the best way to share an idea with your boss? The panelists agree: talk about it first, then figure out the details.

“Don’t start a conversation with me with a spreadsheet or PowerPoint,” advises Peters. “Talk to me first. We’ll have a good, casual conversation about your idea. If it has merit, then we’ll start putting numbers together. That’s how we develop the best ideas. You need to have an open conversation so other people can share input. It’s hard to have input when you start looking at a spreadsheet.”

Even if you think your idea is amazing, avoid putting too much time into developing the idea before you have approval from the top.

“I like to talk through ideas first. I call it throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks,” says Marc Farmer, general manager of Clatskanie PUD, Oregon. “But I know some people have different strengths and weaknesses. If it’s coming from the power resource department, I’ll get a full spreadsheet because that’s their world. So we start there. As long as a project or program breaks even and brings value to our consumers, that’s a win for me.”

Posture Perfect

man speaking at conference

Sit up straight! The first general session left everyone on the edge of their seats as body language expert Chris Ulrich pointed out how our posture speaks volumes. Here are a few of his posture tips:

  • Nervous when speaking to someone? Instead of holding your hand or arm while talking, try leaning on a table or chair and hold your chin. You get the same soothing effect but look more confident.
  • When you cross your arms, you are grounding yourself. People who do this are 30 percent more likely to solve a problem.
  • Belly-Button Rule: Do not give someone the cold shoulder as you shake hands (demonstrated in the left photo). Instead, be sure your belly button faces the person (as seen in photo on right).

    Remember the belly-button rule! Always face someone when you shake hands.

  • Want to understand someone? Develop a baseline of routine behavior. See if there is a deviation from the norm. If so, ask open-ended, powerful questions, such as, ‘Maybe I’m wrong here, but… .’


We love grammar. It’s kind of our thing. So you can understand our glee when NWPPA’s Assistant Editor Brenda Dunn led a pop-quiz grammar session. We enjoyed it so much we made a video about it.

Our editors love working with you to spot grammar trouble. Always have someone else edit your writing–it’s a must! We also enjoy these editing resources:

Idea: Utility Car Wash

One of the best learning opportunities happens at peer roundtables. We sat in on several of the group discussions. One of our favorite ideas came from Columbia River PUD in Oregon.

Because of the PUD’s bylaws, they cannot give donations to nonprofits. Instead, they support groups by paying $300 for a nonprofit’s volunteers to wash company vehicles. Utility cars and trucks are washed once a month; local nonprofits sign-up months in advance for the unique fundraising opportunity.

Hungry for More?

Stay tuned for more learning moments next week. We hope to see you in Newport, Oregon, this weekend for a great week of writing and photography training with a heaping portion of networking on the side!