3 essential communications principles for project managers

Communication is the most important skill we have as project managers. Keeping it simple is the most effective way to communicate. Three communication principles rule in today’s world of faster, more agile/lean projects.

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My son turns 20 this month. He’s part of the millennial generation, and I’m sure most of you have read multiple articles, blog posts, and journals about “what” this generation is doing and “why” they do it. I actually felt like I had a good handle on their motivations, focus, etc. and recently was getting ready to work with a group of new CAPM students who are preparing for the exam.

“What’s that, Mr. Ward?” asked one of my son’s friends, while I was in my recording studio at my home pulling together some slides to help my study group.  

“It’s a meme from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that says, ‘One does not simply stop a project’,” I replied with a smug look on my face. Surely, he was going to compliment me on using a relevant pop culture reference in my presentation.

“I don’t get it.”

Stunned, I looked up from my screen. “What do you mean?”

“So are you saying you don’t want to stop a project?”

“No, I mean that you have to really think about reasons why you might stop a project. It’s vitally important to close out all projects, even the ones that have failed or aren’t able to be fixed.”

Shaking his head, he looked at me. “Then why don’t you just say that?”

Communication. It’s the most important skill we can have as project managers and sometimes we do it poorly. Throughout the years, I’ve found that because of the changes in the many types of projects we can be working on, it makes sense to follow the KISS principle even more. Keeping it simple doesn’t mean we can’t communicate more advanced concepts, it just means that we need get to the point and stick to the point. I’ve found that there are three principles in today’s world of faster, more agile/lean projects that help with communication. It works regardless of the audience you’re working with.

1. What’s the main point? I’m sure you’ve sat in meetings or read emails, during which it seems like the person is talking about everything BUT what the subject should be. So make sure you outline what it is you’re trying to communicate and then stick to that outline. Sub-points lead to the main point. Give examples when necessary, but don’t overload presentations with them.

2. Set expectations and then meet them. A long time ago, one of my managers taught me a great method for handling meetings and presentations. It’s called ‘The Journey Method.’ Tell your audience where you are going and what will be covered, cover the material, and finally, remind them what you covered and where you’ve been. Back when I was a production director for radio and television stations, there was the principle of “3’s.” Mention something three times and it tends to stick with people. You also develop a reputation for having well put together meetings! I’m still not the best at it, but I’ve definitely improved over the years.

3. Be confident, but be yourself. Do the research up front and make sure you have accurate information, as that leads to confidence. Be yourself, not someone else. Most of you (not all) made it to this point in your careers by handling projects and presentations galore. I have several friends who could have another career in stand-up comedy, but when it comes to presentations or staff meetings they use humor sparingly. If you have a hard time telling a joke, then don’t use your project update meetings to test them out. Smile and thank people for coming, then dive right in.

While we do need to consider cultural and generational differences, basic information can still be handled and shared in a quick and efficient manner with simple and straightforward messaging. This can help make projects and/or presentations that much more insightful.

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