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Write for your audience, not for your boss

Your stakeholders can trap your comms in endless review cycles, unless you demonstrate your expertise.

Have you had your comms trapped in endless review cycles? Every stakeholder agrees what has to be said, but each wants you to ‘soften this’ and ‘put that at the bottom’…

As an experienced communicator, or writer, you may well fume ‘I wouldn’t tell them how to do their job’. Take a breath and accept that stakeholders have hidden agendas and your experience won’t be obvious to them.

The first step in presenting your first draft to stakeholders could include briefly explaining your thinking. Explain why you’ve put the topics in such an order. Show your focus on telling a story, starting with ‘what’ is happening, and ‘who’ is involved, followed by greater detail and context. As stakeholders will have preferences about style, tone, and voice, you may want to justify your vocabulary.

The second step is to challenge feedback with clarification questions. It’s not that you disagree with stakeholders’ instructions; it’s just that you want to understand why they want what they want. Stakeholders may not have explained their needs (their ‘hidden agendas’), and of course they probably have further knowledge about the topic that they will just not share with you.

Standards – style guide

When explaining your vocabulary and tone choices, it helps to reference a style guide. If communication is a strategic matter for your company, you’ll no doubt have a house style guide available on your intranet. If you’re still building the importance of comms, you might refer to the AP Stylebook, the Guardian style guide, or perhaps Plain English.

Frankly, you’ll need a little house guide of some kind, if only to specify whether you use sentence case or title case in headings!

The ClearBox ‘creating intranet content’ guide could form the basis of your house style guide, and will certainly help your intranet contributors better communicate.

So, once you’re prepared to understand your stakeholders’ real needs and explain your vocab and layout choices, you can focus on empathising with your audience and crafting communications that inspire behaviour change.

Siding with the audience means you can, at times, push back stakeholder comments. I’ve had managers ominously pause over my work and then say ‘I trust your judgement on this’ and that is very validating. Your communication work expresses your experience; nobody has all the experience to be perfect, but if you know your audience from within (rather than from above) you manager should trust you to do what’s best.

A version of this article was commissioned and first published by ClearBox Consulting.

Photo credit: FTTUB

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