Getting the Right Message Across in the Right Way
Have you ever received an email and felt the sender really wasn't thinking about what you needed to know or hear? Maybe you've attended a presentation that simply left you cold.
Or perhaps you've delivered communications yourself and realized, in retrospect, that you really hadn't got the measure of your audience and their needs.
Whether you need to communicate general day-to-day information or major news about important changes in your organization, the best communications start with good planning.
In this article – and with our free worksheet, below – we'll explore a five-step strategy for ensuring that your message reaches the right people, on the right channel, and leads to the outcome that you intended.
Five Steps for Effective Communications Planning
This strategy will help you to prepare an audience-focused communication plan that's sure to get your message heard.
It will put you in the shoes of your audience, so that you can establish key details, such as: what do they need to know, and what do they know already? What's their preferred way of receiving information? What will stop them listening to what you have to say? And how will you know that they have got the message?
Use these five steps to create a good communication plan for your company or project, and record it on your free worksheet, here .
Step 1. Understand Your Objectives
Be clear about your overall communication objectives. What do you want to achieve, when and why? Record your overall objectives in your plan.
Figure 1: Communications Planning Template
|Communications Plan For……………………|
|Overall Communication Objective:|
Step 2. Understand Your Audiences
Now identify and list your different audiences. This can initially seem quite difficult: for all but the simplest communications plan, it's good to use Stakeholder Analysis to identify who to communicate with and why.
Think of "audiences" as groups that you need to communicate with. Any one person may be a member of several audiences. For example, consider a project communications plan that has four audiences:
- All people working in New Jersey Office.
- All people working in Sydney Office.
- Customer Services Teams.
- HR Managers.
Joe is an HR manager working in Sydney and is, therefore, a member of two audiences, as is Sue who is a customer services team manager in New Jersey. Whereas Lee, an IT consultant in New Jersey, is a member of just one audience – "All people working in New Jersey Office."
Step 3. Choose the Right Channels
Once you have clarified your objectives and got a full understanding of the different audiences that you need to communicate with, it's time to choose the most appropriate channels for delivering your message.
Jot down all the possible communications channels you could use. Think broadly and creatively! You probably already use lots of great communications channels in your company, but some new ones may help you to get your message across. Here's a list to get you started:
- Instant Messaging.
- Virtual meetings.
- Notice boards.
- CEO briefing.
- Lunchtime meeting.
- Intranet article.
- Launch event.
Big corporate news often gets announced at big corporate events. But don't forget to use existing channels, such as staff newsletters, the intranet and team meetings, too. Using existing channels with the right message at the right time is an effective and familiar way to reach your audience.
Step 4. Planning Your Message
Now you've decided which channels to use, drill down into your communication objectives and clarify specific objectives for each audience. Start by thinking about the broadest audience groups first. In our example, the broadest audience might be "All people working in New Jersey Office" and "All people working in Sydney Office".
As you consider each audience in turn, ask the following questions:
- What does the audience need and want to know?
- When do we need to communicate?
- What is the regular or preferred channel for reaching this audience?
- For this specific audience and message, what is the most effective way to get your message across?
Several messages over time may be required to meet the objectives of each audience. Make sure the messages that you plan "add up" to meet the audience's objectives.
As you plan for each audience, remember that members of one audience may also be part of another audience, and so may receive several messages. Plan your communications so that individuals receive the right information and are not inundated, or worse, confused by the different messages that they receive.
Step 5. Monitor Effectiveness
It's good to get feedback on the communications that you have planned and implemented. Ask people from different audiences how you are doing. Check that they understand the messages you need them to hear.
By getting timely feedback, you can tune any future communications that you have planned to better meet people's needs or fill any gaps that you've missed.
Example Communications Plan
Let's consider planning the communications for the implementation of new security passes in your office. The overall objective is to, "Ensure a smooth transition from the current security pass system to the new one."
Who are the audiences and what do they need? First, consider the universal audience "All Office-Based Staff." Everyone will need to know that the change is scheduled, what to expect and when.
If people at each site need to receive different instructions about how to get a new pass and so on, each site needs to be listed as a separate audience ("Staff at site A" and so on) And what about the people who manage security? They are a further audience group as they have specific needs including more detailed information (possibly training) on how to manage the new system.
Now consider the specific messages for each audience. As well as receiving all-staff announcements about the new system, "Staff at site A" must know when and where at Site A to get their new pass photos taken. This information must be communicated several days ahead of time. The day before the changeover, people may need to be reminded to have their new passes at the ready, perhaps by leafleting everyone's desk throughout the office.
For more tools that can help you to plan and manage change, see our Project Management section. In particular, look at the articles on Stakeholder Analysis and Stakeholder Planning (if you haven't already done so.)
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