Three Essentials for Communicating Your Vision to Stakeholders

Stakeholder Vision

It's not just in fairy tales that gifts can come with curses. Like Midas with his golden touch – who ends up turning his daughter into a metallic statue – leading researchers can possess great strengths that come with hidden dangers. One of those strengths, believe it or not, is their capacity for envisioning. 

That’s right: your ability to see a blazing path through the conventional to a breakthrough approach may be a liability if you cannot communicate your vision well. Leaders who are true visionaries see the future with such clarity that it’s easy for them to leave their followers feeling lost, confused, doubtful, or even frustrated.

A leader caught up in a vision makes me think of a prophet lost in a trance. In both cases, the person with the revelation thinks and moves in a world apart from those around them. While they may see, hear, taste, feel, and smell the new world they are dreaming into reality, everyone around them remains firmly planted on Main Street.

So how do you get funders, industry partners, policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders to travel with you to the world of your vision?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bean you can plant to grow a beanstalk that will take them there, nor is there any fail-proof spell you can chant. If you’re a powerful speaker, you may be able to rustle up some energy, but that will soon fizzle unless it also comes with clarity, direction, and purpose. 

You’ll need something that may, from your lofty perspective, seem very prosaic in the grand scheme of your vision: a map for how to get there, and a legend for how to read it.

Forward Thinking for Non-Visionaries

As a visionary, you must understand that most people live in the present, without your ability to instantly time-travel to the future or grasp the impact of the work you do. They need a clear map to show them the way from “You Are Here” to “Where This Amazing Research Can Take You.”

Providing a map to your destination allows stakeholders and government representatives to quickly say “yes” to your main concept or request and gain confidence as you explain. You don’t need a slide deck the length of a feature film or a vision statement so long it needs a spiral binding. Your map simply needs to include the following features.

  1. The Starting Point

Before your audience can make the journey to a world transformed by your research, they need to get their bearings. To help them do that, paint a detailed description of the current landscape.

This doesn’t mean problematizing the present. Acknowledging what’s working, celebrating achievements, and pointing to opportunities builds trust and credibility without putting your audience in a negative mindset. Be candid about limitations, and if there are problems your vision addresses, point those out in detail—being careful, of course, not to blame anyone in your target audience for the shortcomings you notice. 

Ground your audience in the place they find comfort in – the present. Doing so ensures everyone is primed and ready to listen to you and your voice, as you give the guidance for a better and brighter future. 

  1. The Destination 

Once your audience is grounded, describe exactly what the world will look like once your vision has come to fruition. Give your visionary imagination free rein to explore so you can get as specific as possible with the details of your destination.

Imagine you’re on a ship exploring the ocean, and you’re the only person onboard with a telescope. You sight land ahead and shout “Land ahoy!” 

Now, imagine the reaction from your crewmates. As they huddle around you, they pepper you with questions. What do you see? It is a big piece of land or a tiny island? Are there any trees? People? Houses or buildings? Ships by the shore? A dock where we can disembark?

As the one person with the telescope, it’s your responsibility to narrate what you see, in as much depth as you possibly can. Avoid vague phrases and get concrete. Give examples of how the organization will function in the brave new world you envision. Use quantitative language wherever possible, and draw from your research – now is the time for your data to shine through and support your narrative. 

“With my plan, we’ll reduce patient recovery time by up to three days” is more concrete and encourages more buy-in than “patients will recover from surgery more quickly.”

If you have trouble painting the future in such detail, one technique you could try is describing your vision as if it’s already come true. For example, start describing your destination with something like this: It’s two years from today. We’ve now installed more than 10,000 micro air purifiers in office buildings across North America. Client data shows that companies using our product have reduced absenteeism due to illness by five percent.”

  1. The Path to Follow

Mapping your vision doesn’t mean providing a step-by-step strategy for getting there. But it does mean giving your audience assurance that there will be a path leading to the destination.

(Pro Tip: for a clear understanding of the difference between vision and strategy, check out Michael Hyatt’s latest book, The Vision-Driven Leader

Keep in mind that wherever “here” is, it’s probably a pretty comfortable spot for your audience. As a visionary, you’re asking people to leave that familiar territory and join you on a voyage into the unknown. Even once they start to get a glimmer of where you want to take them, chances are your audience will want some more information before they trust you enough to step out beside you.

Selling the Vision Journey 

To be successful, the road map of your vision must give your audience some sense of what will make the future you see a real possibility. Maybe you can remind them of a similar journey you’ve taken together, or of a journey another organization has successfully made and connect it to your own. This is where data from case studies, clinical trials, industry success stories, and program pilots can help prove your case.

Or perhaps you can point out the first couple of milestones along the route and tangible steps showing how you’ll achieve those markers. Stakeholders and funding bodies want assurances that their buy-in will lead to a tangible impact. It’s your job to show them exactly how you’ll make the desired outcomes happen.

As you draw the rough route to your destination, let your enthusiasm for the end result, and your belief in the potential of your research, show. This is not the time to be shy or circumspect. The more confidence you exude, the more concrete your vision will seem to the pragmatists in your audience.

A three-point map won’t provide your audience with all the detail they’ll need to buy into your vision completely, but it should go a long way toward engaging, educating, and inspiring non-experts. Down the line, you can build on that foundation as you entice your audience to take one step further toward the future you see, then another, then another…


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