Successful organizations focus on communicating well with all internal and external stakeholders. By keeping people informed about different business activities, you can limit misunderstandings, clarify objectives and improve productivity. When communicating with stakeholders, be sure to tailor your communication based on your audience’s needs and current knowledge.
Understand the Benefits of Communicating With Stakeholders
Communicating effectively can improve business operations on multiple levels. Some of the benefits of communicating with stakeholders include:
- Reducing misunderstandings around products, services and projects
- Ensuring timelines are met and budgets are respected
- Clarifying expectations from stakeholders
- Decreasing conflicts between groups of stakeholders
- Increasing commitment and investment from stakeholders
By communicating effectively with all stakeholders, your organization can not only improve internal operations with employees, but you also can impact your relationship with external stakeholders too.
Identify Your Audience
The first step to effective communication is clearly identifying your target audience. Who are the stakeholders you need to communicate with? Internal stakeholders can include frontline employees, department managers, team leaders and company executives. External stakeholders include:
- business partners
- community members
Establish Clear Communications Objectives
Effective communication requires clear goal-setting. It’s critical to understand the purpose of your communication. Are you trying to inform people of new information or are you trying to persuade them to take action? Do you want to clarify a misunderstanding or do you want to provide feedback? By knowing your goals, you can better prepare your message and identify the right mode of communication.
For example, if you want to tell prospects about a new sale your store is having, your goal is not simply to inform them of the promotion. Your goal, in this case, is to persuade the prospects to take action: purchase your products. Knowing this end goal will affect everything from the words you use to the way you communicate.
Prepare Your Messaging in Advance
Regardless of how informal your communication may be, it’s important to prepare in advance of speaking with stakeholders. This way, you don’t waste time and resources by figuring out your message on the spot. Take time to understand what critical information your audience needs to hear. What do they already know? Where are their knowledge gaps? This will help to ensure you’re communicating the right information at the right time.
If you’re meeting with department managers about project updates, but all stakeholders already have the latest information, you could be wasting their time and lowering their productivity. Instead of going over updates which they already know, you could use the time to troubleshoot project issues since all critical stakeholders will be in the room. This kind of preparation is important to increasing productivity in the workplace.
Whenever possible, it’s also vital to tell the stakeholders what you will be discussing in advance, so they have time to prepare as well.
Speak Their Language
Avoid using overly technical terms or industry jargon if your target stakeholder audience doesn’t understand it. Instead, use terms that they are familiar with and comfortable using. This helps to reduce misunderstandings and clarifies your objectives.
If you’re speaking with prospects about a technical feature of your product, for example, take into consideration how much the prospect already knows. If they don’t have a technical background, the information may be irrelevant to them. Instead, you will be able to better communicate if you focus on the benefits of those features in everyday language, rather than their technical specifications.
Be sure to take cultural differences into account when communicating. Some cultures are more direct in their conversations, while others are more soft-spoken. In some cultures, eye contact and aggressive hand gestures are normal, where in others they are frowned upon.
Use the Best Communication Medium for the Job
There are several different types of stakeholder communication. Examples include:
- Instant messages
- Emails, project management platform updates and other electronic communication
- Reports, slide decks and other shared documents
- Printed memos, handouts and notices
- Virtual meetings
- Phone meetings
- In-person meetings
It’s important to select the right mode of communication to achieve your objective. You may not need an in-person meeting with an employee if your goal can be accomplished using a quick instant message, for example. Take your stakeholder’s needs into account as well. Be sure to make the communication convenient for them. Try to provide visual stimulation during long presentations and lengthy text documents. Break up the text with photos, images, charts and videos to captivate your audience.
When dealing with prospects and customers, it’s important to try to capture their attention without taking up too much time. Instead of sending an email with several paragraphs in it, try sending a shorter email that has bullet points instead. This makes the content easier to skim and may improve how much information your prospects actually digest.
Pay Attention to the Audience Dynamics
Effective communication requires careful attention to non-verbal cues. Focus on your communication partners’ body language, eye contact, tone of voice and hand gestures. Adjust your communication based on how your audience reacts.
For example, if you’re meeting with investors and presenting your business plan, pay attention to how they respond. If their facial expressions appear confused, clarify your points. If they appear irritated, you may need to defuse tension or increase the speed of your presentation. You may need to adjust your own tone of voice or body language to help your audience feel more at ease and focus on your presentation.
Follow Up After Your Engagement
In order to ensure that your message was received as intended, it’s important to follow up after your communication. This helps to reduce any misunderstandings and remind people what the next steps are. The need for stakeholder communication is paramount because it helps the business to run more effectively. As a part of improving operations, following up helps to ensure everything stays on track.
For example, after a team meeting, be sure to send out meeting minutes to the stakeholders. This helps those people who have action items see the deadlines and other relevant details. Those who weren’t able to attend the meeting are able to catch up on any important business.
If you’re meeting with prospects at a trade show booth, for example, be sure to grab their business card so you can contact them to follow up on your conversation. Remind them of the benefits of your product and begin building trust by sharing your expertise in the industry.
Regularly Ask for Feedback
The benefits of stakeholders in an organization is that you have the ability to ask for feedback. External stakeholders are also often interested in offering their perspectives on your business. Build in regular communication surveys for your employees, so they have the opportunity to let you know how effectively they think the business communicates. You can make the surveys anonymous so people feel comfortable being honest. You can also ask for direct feedback from important stakeholders during meetings.
With external stakeholders, consider sending out short email surveys where prospects, customers and partners have the ability to share their insights on your marketing and communications materials. Be sure to learn from the feedback you receive and incorporate it into your business where possible. For example, if you currently email prospects once a week and the majority of respondents said that was too often, you may want to look at reducing your outbound efforts. Improve your communication by focusing on what your stakeholders want.
- The Product Program: Getting to Effective Stakeholder Communication
- Project Management Institute: Managing Communications Effectively and Efficiently
- WorkFront: Effective Stakeholder Management: 10 Tips for Better Communication
- Axcelos: How To Communicate Effectively with Stakeholders in Project Management
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.