How to Speak Your Stakeholder’s Language

Dorian Cundick
Dorian Cundick

Have you found yourself feeling disconnected from key stakeholders? Are you increasingly frustrated as your repeated attempts at engaging—let alone securing commitment—are falling short of what you had hoped? Does your messaging fall on deaf ears?

At CEB, we spend a lot of time offering one form or another of messaging therapy. So we feel confident in assuring you, with research at our back, that not only can your stakeholder relationships be salvaged—they can be better than ever.

It starts with acknowledging that you speak different languages: you speak corporate, and they probably don’t. So here are a few tips for more effectively speaking in a language your stakeholders will respond to.


If you must forget everything else that follows, cling to this one principle: If it’s about you, they don’t care. They really don’t. No one has time to sift through information just for the sake of doing so. Our stakeholders must immediately see themselves in what we say, or they will move on to more relevant pastures.

Sadly, the very foundation of corporate communications seem to have been built on communicating as though our stakeholders are walking around thinking about us, anxiously waiting what we will tell them next. They are not. We simply do not occupy their mindshare until they decide they need us, or until we somehow make it clear that it’s in their best interest to engage with us.

A useful checklist to apply to anything we think about saying to our stakeholders:

▶ Who exactly am I trying to connect with?

▶ Who is at the center of the message—the company, or the stakeholder?

▶ What could I tweak to make it sound more immediately relevant? A few suspects: headlines, first sentences and quotes.

It really is just emotions—at least when it comes to connecting to stakeholders. CEB research reveals that when it comes to getting someone who generally likes us to actually do something in support of our company the only thing that really makes a difference is an emotional connection.

Our stakeholders will feel connected to us when they see themselves and their interests reflected in what we have to offer—through our employees, our causes, our presence in the community, and the way in which our products and services generally improve people’s quality of life. So we need to craft our messages around those things.


Creating this emotional connection is largely a matter of language and style, yet corporate jargon makes us sound like tourists. Think about it. Do you speak enough of any foreign language to feel even just a bit snooty about it? If so, think about how you react when you hear someone absolutely butchering your beloved French or Italian? This is a turn-off and a distraction, and surely gets in the way of anything one is trying to say.

So consider this a challenge for you to imitate any given stakeholder accent with three techniques: be human, be relevant, and use their words. For instance, try mining your stakeholder listening intelligence for an actual vocabulary that you can flip back around and use in your messaging.


It’s the messaging equivalent of showing up with flowers on a Thursday afternoon—spark your stakeholders’ interest by surprising them with a fresh take on an old routine. A compelling article on music published in The New York Times documented research on why people feel a strong connection to one version of a song over another. The conclusion: People experience increased emotions when there is a deviation from an established pattern.

What can communicators take from this wise-sounding but slightly cryptic observation? Take a look at some of your typical communications, the things your stakeholders have already heard a thousand times. Give a little thought as to how you could switch things up just a bit to catch their attention.

Some fun examples we’ve seen out there include Mattel using video cameos of small children presenting the required legalese leading up to its annual report. For a really good time, check out the customer service section of Admittedly, humor may be less of an option for some of us.

The point is, think about how you can appropriately vary the things you’re always saying to spark a little interest. PRN


Dorian Cundick is an executive advisor at CEB. Follow her on Twitter, @CEB_News.

This article appeared in the September 9 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.