Life lessons for communicating in the 21st Century

Chris Hughes
Christopher Hughes ’88 talks with Stephen Turchan ’11 about communications for life.
"I don't think you've even arrived until you've been horribly misquoted by the press," said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Christopher Hughes '88 to members of Hampden-Sydney's National Security Studies Program.

Col. Hughes, a Public Affairs Officer, returned to campus January 28th to discuss "Leaders as Communicators: National Security Challenges in the 21st Century." His recent assignments have taken him to Afghanistan's Helmand province, where he served as NATO Regional Command Southwest's Director of Public Affairs. Before that he was in Iraq as Public Affairs Director for Multi-National Forces West in al-Anbar province. He has also served in Hawaii, Australia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and East Timor.

Though he was on campus for the benefit of the students, he says, "I am the real benefactor of this experience. I feel so good about the energy here on campus, and the state of Hampden-Sydney is so good. It is an honor to re-engage with the school and to get to know the students. Since I've been in the Marine Corps, I've been overseas a lot or in California. I didn't have the opportunity to come back to campus. I was really envious of the alumni I saw in The Record who were coming back and getting involved. Now that I am closer, I try to get down here every chance I can."

Col. Hughes gave students current examples of poorly handled communications operations, such as BP's response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Brett Favre's multiple retirements from professional football, and Rolling Stone magazine's article about General Stanley McChrystal.

What advice did Hughes give the students? "It's always better for someone else to sing your praises than for you to sing them yourself. Effective communicators determine whether or not their message is being received and understood. Lie just a little bit and you lose all the support of your closest allies."

Along with his advice, Col. Hughes told the students, "If you take away one thing from this talk tonight, it should be this: I played football for Stokeley Fulton."