Be a confident communicator, not an order taker, and you can persuade clients about your point of view

Last week, I facilitated a learning session on how to become a strategic advisor with a group of communicators at a client company.

As a warm-up exercise, I separated the group into teams and asked each team to come up with a list of obstacles to being treated as an advisor.

It should be no surprise that the #1 problem on each team’s list was “internal clients believe they know the best way to communicate.” One team even put it this way: “(Clients) think they know MORE about communication than we do.”

While it’s true that everyone thinks he or she knows a lot about communication, you have the power to change the perception that any random VP knows as much as you do. 

How? By acting like the expert that you are. Here are five ways to do so:

  1. Be an authority on your audience(s). Understand who they are (demographics), what they need and prefer—and, most importantly, what they do with communication.
  2. Focus on objectives. Internal clients are quick to seize upon tactics: “We need a video to communicate X.” By guiding the discussion to desired outcomes, you avoid the tactical trap and give yourself room to offer a more strategic approach.
  3. Ask tough questions. Clients often approach communication in a superficial way: “This press release needs to go out announcing our new service.” You make a contribution by asking questions like: “Why is this important? How is this different? What will customers need to know? Are there any issues that may come up?”
  4. Offer intriguing, unexpected and sometimes unachievable ideas. So much of communication is same stuff, different day. When the answer to every question is “send an email,” it’s no wonder clients believe they can come up with what to do. But when you bring original thinking, you add value. (Even impractical ideas are valid, since they encourage a fresh approach.)
  5. Show results. Quite simply, sharing metrics demonstrate the impact of your work. That builds tremendous credibility.

I just thought of a sixth suggestion: Exude confidence. You’re the professional. You have great experience. And you do know more about communication than your clients. So own your strength.

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