I am publishing this weeks article from a hot (34 celsius) and sunny London (I know - I can hardly believe it either!) and this is my final task before heading away for a week of holiday in Greece :-)
This weeks article is written by a very talented change manager on my team: Ayaka. The thing that struck me about Ayaka right from when I first met and interviewed her was her ability to put herself into the shoes of other people, be they customers, partners or internal stakeholders and delliver the content they needed or wanted in the interaction.
I feel that this is such a great skill and so appliciable for helping people deal with change, but also in a broader business sense. I've asked her to share her tips and thoughts about how she approaches meetings and brings this customer focus to life in her day to day activities.
I hope you find this as interesting and insightful an article as I do!
My name is Ayaka Yamada and I am the APAC Google for Work Change and Transformation Specialist based in Singapore. I joined the Google for Work Team in Singapore last October and before that, I was a sales representative for Adwords, Google’s internet advertising products in Google Tokyo. Prior to joining Google, I worked for a Japanese telecom company and rotated several roles, such as agency support, consumer service planning and marketing.
Kim asked me to share my tips on how to tailor meetings and communications messages to different audiences and situations. One of my focus areas throughout my career has been - how can I (as a non-technical person in a technology company) simplify technically complicated content to have smoother business conversations with my customers?
Before I go into the details, let me clarify what I mean by ‘tailoring messages for your audience’. I believe that tailoring messages is a key thing to consider whenever you have an occasion to engage with any audience in activities such as business presentations, emails, meetings and training delivery. Before writing or creating content, we should always spend some time to put ourselves in our audience’s shoes and imagine what content would be most relevant and in which ways we can effectively communicate with that audience.
What I have found, is that by taking the time to do this, the audience will not only have a better understanding of your messages but will also be more likely to be honest with their feedback, questions and requests as a result of your empathy for them. This will help you to understand your audience much better and brings positive long lasting impacts for your business relationship with them.
For example, imagine that you are the owner / founder of a start-up and have invited two suppliers to deliver their sales pitches for a new service you are interested in purchasing. Supplier A presents a pitch using generic content readily available online. On the other hand, Supplier B presents a customized presentation which includes your company’s logo and mission statement, and highlights how their product and services will help you to achieve your company’s vision. They also share success stories from other organisations they have worked with within your industry or region. It is likely that you will be able to better imagine your company’s success by hearing the latter presentation and will be more likely to want to work with Supplier B. As you can see in this example, simple efforts like this to tailor content can have a massive impact for succeeding in business interactions.
I’d like to share some of my tips about how to better tailor messages to the needs of the audience. Whenever I want to communicate with someone else, I follow this simple three step approach: 1. Know your audience 2. Plan your content 3. Deliver with impact. Below are some additional ideas about how best to approach each of these steps.
Tip 1. Know your audience
I believe there are two key questions that we should ask in order to better know our audience each time we have a business interaction that we are planning for:
Who are the audience?
To answer this question, it is important not only to consider number of audience members, their companies, departments and roles, but also to consider their familiarity with your content as well as anticipating which aspects of your content your audience most care about.
What are the audience’s expectations?
While this is closely related to the aspect of your content your audience care about mentioned above, you should also consider what your audience’s expectations are from this engagement with you? Do they expect to gain high-level or deep knowledge? Do they expect that you will give them a detailed update on the status of a project? Do they expect that they will taking some actions following the meeting?
Tip 2. Plan your content
So, how will you use the information about your audience to build compelling and relevant content?
Select your ‘must include’ messages:
Having considered your audience’s interests and expectations, I would recommend that you list all the information you want to deliver and label each piece of information with one of these three categories: ‘Must include’ ‘Should include’ ‘Could include’.
In order to stay focused, I would advise you to build your content with the ‘must include’ information to begin with, but you might also include some ‘should include’ content for your introduction, or to help with context setting or additional explanations.
Be mindful of the language you use:
Based on your observation about your audience’s familiarity with your content and their role, speciality and the company culture, I recommend that you choose appropriate keywords and phrases throughout your content. Be especially careful about using terms or acronyms that are related to product features, technical terms or internally used terms and consider if the language makes sense and is clear for your audience.
Delivery channel / method:
It is often the case that you do not have the flexibility to choose the delivery method of your content as these may have already been decided or arranged by someone else, for example if it is a face to face meeting, video conference or email. However, you do still have the opportunity to ensure that your content is varied and engaging. Using a variety of formats is important - as everyone has personal preferences about how they like to consume information, (refer to the VAK adult learning theory that was mentioned in Kim's previous change management blog post) meaning that we should try to include information in visual, auditory and kinesthetic ways whenever possible. With this in mind, we should consider including video links or photos in emails and on video conferences, doing a real-time product demos or using a whiteboard or flipchart during presentations and using forms for collecting feedback or input. This variety will help ensure you are able to connect with all members of your audience.
Depth of content and timing:
When you have a list of ‘must include’ messages, you should imagine how much information is appropriate for the specific audience to digest these messages. Consider several elements such as their expectations, level of familiarity and their roles to decide what is the right depth. It is also crucial to have your engagement at just the right timing for fulfilling their goals and taking next actions. Timing and depth of content are two of the most important elements to consider especially when you are engaging with executives. When working with executives I have learnt that it is important to only share the most relevant high-level information in a concise language which can be digested quickly, and to be very clear about what and when their support is required to succeed.
Tip 3. Deliver with impact
With your well prepared content, how will you effectively engage with your audience? Here are the things I take special attention to plan for:
Opening and closing:
How you open and close your communication is an essential part of building a good connection with your audience. This article in Forbes Magazine reported that it takes only 7 seconds for someone to develop a first impression. While this article talks about face-to-face engagement, I believe the same care should be applied to other communication channels including video conferences and emails. First impressions really matter, so I recommend that you carefully think about how you’d like to be perceived. It may differ in different settings, but it is usually effective to start with: 1. Appreciating the engagement opportunity and the other person's time 2. Introducing your role and background (to establish credibility) 3. Clarify the goals of the meeting 4. Agree the agenda.
The closing part of your communication is a crucial time to re-confirm if the engagement goals have been achieved. There are several ways to re-confirm, such as asking if anyone has outstanding questions, soliciting feedback and making alignment on the next steps.
This is another very important moment to impress your audience. You can gain even more trust from your audience by providing answers that meet their expectations but crucially you must be honest. You should repeatedly consider the goals and expectations of the audience and provide your responses to their questions with these in mind. If you don’t know the answer to one of their questions - don’t make something up! Instead take a note of the question and be sure to find out the answer and follow up with them as soon as you can.
Example of how I would approach the above process
To articulate my tips above, I would like to give an example of how I would tailor messages step-by-step in the table below.
Situation: You are a supplier and need to prepare for the following two meetings about the same project:
- Meeting with the executives from the customer
- Meeting with new internal employees from your organisation who will help execute the project
|Steps||Executives from customer||New project team (internal)|
|Overview||Your goals||Meeting the executives from your customer to brief them on the project and gain their support throughout the project||Meeting the newly hired project managers within your organisation to provide execution guidance on project|
|1. Know your audience||Who||CIO, Head of IT, Head of HR||Project Managers|
|Their expectations||Want to know how they can ensure project success||Want to know their roles and responsibilities, project metrics and timelines, and the customer support processes|
|2. Plan your content||‘Must include’ messages|
1. Project overview
2. Definition of project success
3. Project plan details and roles of executives
4. Roles and responsibilities of the customer and the supplier for execution
5. Lessons from other customers’ successful projects
Role related information:
1. Role of project manager
2. Definition of a good project manager
3. Project management top tips and common challenges
4. Milestone activities with customers and useful assets
5. How other project managers can support
Project related information:
1. Project overview and timeline
2. Definition of project success
3. Project plan details
4. Current watchpoints for project manager
1. Avoid using terms and acronyms which are specific to your product or internally used
2. Simplify explanation especially on technical content
3. Tailor the title for this customer (ie. < Customer Name >’s journey of a successful <Project Name>)
4. Highlight this customer’s main concerns throughout your explanation
5. Customer stories from same industry or region
1. When using terms and acronyms used internally, make sure to explain the meanings and context of using them
2. Highlight what the customer expects of a project manager throughout your explanation
3. Focus on teaching them how they can find useful asset whenever needed
1. Face to Face presentation
2. Share case studies, photos or sample documents from other successful projects
3. Play a customer testimonial video
4. Take enough time to answer their questions
5. Make sure to have the relevant technical experts with you
1. Hangout (or face to face if in same location)
2. Use hyperlinks on the presentation slide to allow the employees to easily access the asset later
3. Share sample project management related documents and photos / videos from other customers’ projects
4. Share FAQs from other customers
5. Share watchpoints and lessons learnt
|Depth and timing|
1. Try your best to make the audience understand your ‘Must include’ messages during 30mins
2. Make sure this meeting is held at the very beginning or even before the start of the project
1. Do not need to explain everything in detail in this 2hrs, but ask them to share their questions once they look at the details of the assets
2. Make sure to hold this meeting as soon as they are hired and assigned as a project manager for this project and establish regular follow up meetings and Q&A sessions
Throughout my career I continue to learn about the importance and positive impact of spending time on these preparation activities. It is never a waste of time!
Spending time to understand who your audience are and what their expectations are, tailoring messages to meet their needs and adapting your content to deliver high impact engagements will definitely have a positive impact for your business relationships, and will build your credibility as someone who can be relied upon on to provide great support and help others to be successful.
But over and above this, there is one additional thing that always makes me want to go through this process; which is the thank you words from the audience after the meeting or activity, and the knowledge that I am really helping them to achieve their goals. This positive feedback always brightens my day and reinforces why I take the time to go through these steps.
Thank you for reading my article and I hope these were useful tips for you. I would like to hear what your views and own experience of tailoring messages are - please share your comments or questions below and I will be sure to respond :-)