“I’m Jacqueline, a Partner at Sullivan & Stanley. I’ve spent the majority of my career focussing on how organisations can create the right environment to help their people thrive…”
The reality is that stakeholders care about the value you will create through working together.
And yet when we communicate with stakeholders, our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves and talk about what we’ve done in the past or what we are working on today.
We need to flip the script. We need to focus on value and what it means to stakeholders. I want to share some really practical tips to help you develop and deliver your messages with impact, whether you’re developing a slide-pack or simply having a conversation. When you do, you will engage your stakeholders and drive effective decision making.
1. Who is the audience?
Knowing your ‘actual’ audience is essential if you are to know what’s important to them and address their needs. It’s very easy to assume the person you’re speaking to has been exposed to the same insider knowledge as you, so keep putting yourself in their shoes and ask:
- What do I know already?
- What do I need to know to make a decision?
2. Have you started with the ‘value’?
Before you dig into the detail about what you do, engage your stakeholders and talk about the future value of your work. If you can’t help them to see how they will be better off heeding your advice, they’ll be sat questioning, “So what?”. But remember: Value is contextual and relative – so be sure to focus on the right things.
3. Is there a clear link to a vision?
A great leader has the ability to articulate change through a vivid vision. Rather than leaving the audience feeling flat with a snappy one-liner, they provide clarity around what’s needed and why and inspire people so they want to get involved, because they can see the value of their individual role.
4. Does the format follow the purpose?
Before you start your report, ask yourself, “What do I want my audience to do as a result of reading this?”. Then use that answer as your guiding principle to build a narrative around it. With this focus, you become selective about the information you do/don’t include because either it’s going to help persuade them to take that action, or it’s going to distract them.
5. Have you articulated the decisions sought?
Rather than hit your stakeholders with a list of decisions at the end, pose them upfront — set the expectation that at the end of the report you need them to make a decision on X. Now, they view everything shared within that context, assess throughout the discussion and ensure they have all the information they need to make an informed decision.
6. Have you kept to 1-2 simple messages?
The human brain is only capable of retaining 7-pieces of information – but only for 20-seconds! So focus on the most important thing and drill it over and over (ideally in an interesting way!) until the audience remembers and wants to take action. The bonus: limit the number of messages in your presentation and it brings more impact and authority.
7. Is the urgency of the work clear?
Today, everyone is time-poor. If the work really is important you will be able to articulate why it’s critical and emphasise why you need their involvement now. Be sure to build a business case that includes hard facts about the positive impact change will have — and also the cost/impact of doing nothing.
8. Have you considered the customer?
It’s very easy to lose sight of the customer when you’re bogged down in business-as-usual. But as my colleague Emma Dark, Chief Customer Experience Officer, says, “Customers give organisations purpose and those who truly know their customers and wrap business change around them, get rewarded with loyalty and a tribe that will follow and fight for them forever.”
9. Are you using plain and simple language?
This is not ‘dumbing down’ information. It’s about making it accessible to everyone. Avoid colloquialisms, jargon and slang to be certain that your audience understands the message and isn’t sat there thinking, “Huh?”.
The bonus: simple language also helps people to take in and process information more quickly!
10. Have you reflected on the content using the lens of your stakeholder?
While you may have all the finer details at your fingertips, you want to be sure that your message doesn’t include content that could trigger disengagement or discomfort. If something isn’t relevant to that stakeholder, delete it. And if something is at risk of upsetting someone, consider how to soften it — perhaps the impact of not doing it is far greater.
11. Have you adapted your communication style?
Facts and figures help us assess the situation and make informed decisions. However, this alone isn’t enough, you need to adapt your style to reflect the different responses to information – rational (read and hear) versus emotive (see and hear).
12. Have you included more detail than is necessary?
We’re all guilty of getting carried away when it comes to things we’re passionate about. But remember: less is more impactful. Renowned author Stephen King even advises writers that you can always cut 10%. Unnecessary copy is a distraction so delete it and ensure that every point made adds value to the audience.
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