A Handy Opener

When we’re trying to sell something or engage people in a project, we often find ourselves guessing what will pique their interest. What’s the hook that will encourage them to stick with us?

Instead of guessing, ask them.

Recently I’ve started several workshops with a variation of the question, “Why is the topic we’re discussing today particularly relevant for you/us?” The answers help to focus participants’ attention on the importance of the issue at hand, with the added bonus of being instructive to me in promoting the relevance of this work in the future.

As an example, I recently asked a group of municipal leaders why they had chosen to attend a planning session on stakeholder engagement. In five minutes we filled two flip chart pages with answers, that included some of the following:

  • We do community engagement all the time — we’d better get better at it.
  • We need consistent tools and approaches for engagement across departments in our corporation.
  • Residents are our customers — engagement is like market research for us.
  • Engaging the public helps us deliver value in a way that aligns with our stakeholders’ expectations.
  • Engagement gives us an opportunity to communicate with people we want to reach. We can use it to explain what we do, communicate the impact of our efforts and/or change behaviours.
  • Engaging people shows respect for their wisdom.
  • Sometimes engaging stakeholders is a legislative requirement.
  • Tools for community engagement are changing. We need to be prepared to generate interest and gather input in new ways.
  • Diverse points of view are needed to inform good decision-making.
  • Increasingly, people expect us to ask for their opinion.
  • We want to find effective ways to hear from people outside the “vocal minority.”

I am confident that “Let’s talk about why this issue is important to you” is a valuable early discussion starter in a meeting.

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