Keeping an open and effective line of communication with stakeholders is important. A couple of years ago I stumbled on this list of tips for presenting to stakeholders, which is worth rehashing. Sometimes it seems like a thirty-minute meeting can be over in sixty seconds. Stakeholders sometimes have short attention spans, so if you don't capture their attention in the first minute or two, they'll
start checking their email and watching the clock or worse—bail on your meeting.
Anyone involved in project-based work has to deal with sponsors and stakeholders. With that in mind, here are ten tips that might help your presentations:
Pique their interest: An agenda is always a good idea, but a brief summary of what will be discussed is even better. Plus, it gives stakeholders a take-away and allows them to come prepared with questions.
Don't assume they know their job as stakeholder: They might understand the high-level view, but you will probably need to fill in the details.
Keep it simple: Give them the situation in straightforward terms. Don't overwhelm them with information. Cut to the chase. (However, be prepared for a deeper dive if they start asking questions.)
Use numbers and pictures: PowerPoint is a great tool for presenting graphics and numbers to stakeholders. It's how they present information to each other. You should too.
Sometimes you have to use logic: Accept the fact that there might not always be data to support a particular situation. Not having numbers to back up your position could make a successful argument problematic, so you may have to turn to "if ... then ..." logic to shed light on a situation. However, don't expect the same results or response from stakeholders—numbers rule with them.
Waiting is never a good option: Don't wait until a problem is obvious—it's often more difficult to solve the issue at that point.
Always offer a solution: If you are going to bring up a problem without offering a potential solution, you might as well tell the stakeholders, "Fire me now." Finding solutions is part of your job as project manager.
Specify the actions required of them: If stakeholders need to take action, don't assume it will be obvious to them. Restate—in list form—what actions need to be taken and when.
Always say "yes," but make sure they understand how much "yes" costs: Sponsors and stakeholders don't like to be told "no," so don't do it. Just make sure they understand the cost of their request, so they can judge for themselves whether or not "yes" is worth it.
Don't stop reporting status because stakeholders stop requiring it: Perception is reality. If stakeholders perceive that you aren't doing anything—your not. Don't let your head be the next one on the chopping block.
Regardless of your company's work management methodology, there are a lot of project management tools available to help manage tasks and time-lines—some will help you more effectively communicate with the stakeholders in your organization. Whether or not your chosen project management tool facilitates that kind of communication, ignoring that important part of your role as project manager is dangerous. What do you do in your organization to encourage a positive relationship with stakeholders?