Stakeholder Communication: How to Engage Your Project Audience

The who and how of effective project comms

Part #4 of the Communicating with Purpose Series.

This is the fourth of a 5-part series where I guide you through the different elements to more effective project communication.  If you haven’t yet, check out the series intro article,  Communicating with Purpose: The 5 elements of successful communication.

So far in this series on Communicating with Purpose, we’ve looked at how to take away assumptions, the practical ways you can improve your project communication, and the questions you should ask your project team and stakeholders to set you on a path to project success.

But what about the people in your project?

How do you work out who you need to communicate with? What should you communicate with them about? And how do you do it in a way that creates the engagement that will benefit project success?

It all starts with being clear about the reason for the communication.

Purpose of Engagement

Whether you communicate to your stakeholders verbally, digitally or in the old-school written form, everyone involved in the communication should be clear on the purpose.  

Typically, you will communicate with stakeholders for one of 4 purposes.

These are:

  • To clarify assumptions
  • To answer questions
  • To confirm, verify, or endorse information
  • For a decision

When you present the status of the project, you seek endorsement. When you need direction, you seek an answer or a decision. When you are planning, you seek clarity on assumptions.

Once you know why you’re communicating, you’ll be able to work out who your communication should be with by identifying your audience.

How to identify your audience

Understanding that each point of engagement (whether it be within your project team, or to a stakeholder group) should achieve at least 1 (and sometimes more) of the 4 purposes, it makes it much easier to drive action and value from each point of contact.

Before identifying your audience, you must first be clear on the information you need to receive and provide. Remember: the art of communication is all about the exchange of giving and receiving information so be sure to also consider what information you will need to pass on to others.

If you haven’t already, brainstorm all the information you will need to receive and what you need to provide following the 5 Elements of a strategy.

It’s important that for each piece of information you need to collect, you work collaboratively with your team and project stakeholders to identify your audience.
Undertaking this task together will provide significant benefits and insights including:

  • Timely responses as everyone is on hand to resolve issues, answer questions, and make progress
  • An appreciation of each party’s priorities, their level of knowledge, and willingness to assist the project team
  • Insights on who may be problematic stakeholders
  • A holistic view on the level of information available versus the level of complexities the project team will or could encounter.

After you’ve identified your audience, you’ll want to make sure you can record this, and the information you collect, is all in the one place.

Capturing your information and audience

A great way to keep a record of your information and audience is in a simple spreadsheet.

Using a table layout:

  1. Itemise the information you need to investigate
  2. Assign the people who can address each element or question
  3. Outline the purpose of engagement for each point.

Remember that this process is a first step and that the information gathered here will continue to be refined as the project evolves.

It’s good to keep in mind that once you’ve completed this process, it will provide you with a continuous guide of topics to monitor, answer, resolve, and manage. 

Consider a communications plan

The most useful tool I use to capture, manage, and monitor project comms information is in a detailed communications plan.

A step up from a simple spreadsheet, my communications plan has evolved over several years of consulting. It helps me, my teams, and my trainees to plan out and manage:  

  • All key information to gather and communicate at different phases of the project to the respective audience
  • The methods of communication needed
  • The key decision makers
  • Accountability on who drives success across each milestone of communication.
If you’re ready to level up on the way you manage communication on your projects, you’ll find my Communications Plan Template here.

Ownership & getting the chain of communication right.

Now that you have an idea of who to speak to and about what, you need to work as a team to assign owners for each piece of information to be investigated or discussed.

I assign owners within the communications plan as a starting point, before I add it into my project plan as another task to complete. As not all communication tasks are tracked in the project plan, this ensures communication tasks are managed in a central place so there is always accountability on actions being completed.

Before sending out meeting invites to stakeholders, you should email, or call them, or both.

This will give you the chance to outline who you are, the aim of your project, why you seek their engagement, and why you think they can help.

In the same communication you should nominate your preferred method to engage them if they are the right person.

As a courtesy, I would also suggest an indication of time commitment you expect this will require from them. Will it be an ongoing engagement, a one-off, a series and how much time do you anticipate each engagement will take?

You may also want to check if this time commitment requires authorisation from a manager. This is useful to know as it provides you an indication of the turnaround time before engagement can occur.

When you take the time to identify and engage your project audience in a purposeful way and maintain a good communications plan, you’ll have a much more efficient project delivery, and much less chance of assumptions derailing your success.

Up Next: Creating Accountability

Accountability is an often-overlooked element when it comes to project communication. In the next part of the Communicating with Purpose series, we’ll look at why communication accountability is so important and how you and your team can actively take ownership to make your project a success.

Are you ready to level up your communication to deliver more powerful projects?

In addition to giving you the keys to effective project communication, each article in this 5-part series will suggest documented resources you can use to make sure your communication remains effective.

You’ll find a full list of Projecting with People resources in my online shop here.

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