Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Are you engaging your audiences? If you don’t know, you probably aren’t. If you aren’t you’re probably operating in an echo chamber of your own construction.

Stephen R. Covey noted that our strength lies in differences, not in similarities. Only by finding out how others think, what they value, how they make decisions, can we truly engage them.

At its heart, effective communication is an art. It depends upon determining which one message will resonate with many. Engagement is knowing your audience, and reaching out to them based on their interests, passions, skills, etc. Engagement is meaningful. Engagement involves others. Although communication can happen without engagement, engagement cannot happen without communication.

Effective communication strategies often begin with the development of strategies, key messages, project descriptions and timelines. The demographics and psychographics of identified audiences are investigated with communications being tailored to the audience and disseminated through a variety of means such as printed information packages, press releases, videos, websites, social media, open houses, sponsorships, community events and much more.

Most of  these types of communication tend to be one-way. Focus is placed on disseminating the message. It is passive. It’s when an actual dialogue ensues, and the conversation becomes two-way, that we enter the powerful space that exists when communication leads to engagement.

Community engagement is a community-centered orientation based in dialogue. Community engagement provides a deeper understanding of community members’ perceptions of various topics and contexts, and facilitates stronger relationships among businesses, organizations and the communities they impact. The outcome of community engagement, in the end, is more defined and stronger social capital and more robust relational networks .

Engagement is active, it’s never inactive. It requires the participation of both the speaker and listener. Successful engagement happens when there is a connection, active listening and a sincere wish understand and to move forward in a positive manner together. Active engagement occurs when key audiences and stakeholders feel heard and know that their opinions matter.

More and more businesses are focusing on truly knowing their audiences. It’s fertile ground for problem solving and collaboration. We all benefit when we work together to achieve a project’s goals. In my experience, clients benefit when stakeholders communicate key information that may impact a project. This happens in many ways including focus groups, community engagement forums, strategy building sessions, and even surveys.

Beyond requiring extra effort to fully engage your audiences, community engagement means that you must be open to other ideas. It may require the adjustment of plans or messaging to better reflect what will be meaningful with different groups of people. It means that people may have opinions and thoughts that are different from yours, and they need to be respected.  It doesn’t mean bending people to fit your preconceived ideas of how they should respond or behave.

I find that I’m spending more and more time working in this area. It is very rewarding for those who are willing to spend the time to nurture meaningful relationships. I’ve seen clients change their entire plans due to key information received through these processes. I’ve also seen clients receive validation for their vision, thus ensuring that they are on the right track.

As communication channels continue to multiply and people continue to vary the ways that they interact with different communication channels, fully understanding target audiences and engaging with them on a deeper level will continue to be more and more important.

Just as we tend respond to people who seem to “get” us, we are more likely to respond to businesses and organizations that “get” us.  It’s well worth the effort.


Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts.  She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.

Share this post on: