Every day of the year, we are grateful for our partners and the work we do with them. This time of year, however, gives us even more excuses to reflect on what brings meaning to our work.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to help amazing organizations host events and complete special projects. We are grateful for the relationships we’ve built and honored to use our skills to bring value to those who connect with us.
This Thanksgiving we’d like to share a few projects that we are particularly grateful for being involved with. (And we certainly had many wonderful ones to choose from.)
Thank you, all, for being a part of Reach Partners!
Training for Better Communication
Mental Health America of North Dakota wanted to change how sensitive stories about suicide are shared. We helped plan and oversee a conference for news media and organizational spokespeople so they could learn the best way to present information on suicide.
More about the North Dakota Suicide Communications Summit.
Guiding Strategy for Event Planning
Organizations often reach out to us when they want to plan an event to market their brand. Here’s how we worked with two organizations – and how they came to different conclusions after we guided them through the planning process. Spoiler alert: Sometimes NOT hosting an event is the best way forward.
More about strategic event planning.
Partnering with The Fargo Project
When the City of Fargo partnered with a renowned artist to turn a stormwater basin into an ecological commons, the public entity needed someone to coordinate communication among its stakeholders and help with events and volunteer coordination. We stepped into this role.
More about our role with The Fargo Project.
Scouting Locations for a Commercial
We are always eager to tap our connections and networks. That’s what we did when a local marketing agency needed to identify locations for a team of out-of-town videographers to film backdrops for a commercial – fast!
More about how we found the locations.
And so many more wonderful projects and partnerships.
You likely think every project kicks off when the action begins.
In actuality, every project begins long before then.
In fact, every project starts in the same way – with a charter, whether it’s formal or informal.
With a . . . what?
If you’ve never heard about this project management work horse, it’s not surprising. A charter is one of the most important aspects of any project, but it’s also one of the least talked about deliverables.
Here’s what you need to know:
The charter is a reference document that outlines the essence of a project. It’s a road map of sorts that provides a shared understanding of the project while giving authority to the project manager to apply resources to get things done. Simply, it’s a place to gather all the basic information about your project in one place.
There is no universal formula for a charter. Not every charter has to be as formal as a contract (although it could be). But we find that it helps to document in writing the expectations, scope, objectives and deliverables required to make something happen.
After all, a charter shares the big picture of the project. It provides the basis for making decisions and communicates the project scope to the team or other stakeholders.
The components of a project charter include the expectations, scope that defines the project, objectives and deliverables and time needed to justify the project. A formal charter may note high level issues and risks, list resources, milestones and budget.
Some things to include in your next project’s charter:
Background, Purpose, Problem or Opportunity: Why are you doing the project? Why does the project fit the organization’s needs? What benefits are achieved through this project? What problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity is addressed through this project?
Goals or Objectives: What are you going to achieve and when? State what project success means and how to measure success. Use S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) goals.
Scope: Describe the boundaries of the project: the requirements, features, functions, or key characteristics of the product or service. State what is critical for the project to be successful. What actions will you and your team take to complete the project? Sometimes it’s helpful to outline what is not included in the project scope. List the deliverables plus the final result.
Stakeholders: Identify everybody who is affected by the results or involved in the work. Know who can make decisions and has power or influence over resources.
Milestones: Include the event dates beyond the start and target end that are important.
Resources: Identify the budget, team members, materials, or tools needed for the project. With a solid project charter in place, you and those you work with will have a clearer understanding of where you’re heading and how you’re going to get there.
In any profession, there’s a list of terms that make sense to insiders but may be confusing to those outside the field.
Project management is no different.
While we pride ourselves on making things clear and easy to follow, project managers have their own vocabulary. If you understand the lingo, you’ll better be able to ask questions and follow the conversation. You’ll confidently know that you’re on the same page as everyone else.
The Project Management Institute regularly updates A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This publication describes the industry’s best practices, plus it provides a common vocabulary for consistency.
Here are 10 terms that often fall in everyday conversation about projects and project management. Know these and you’ll be versed in how to talk to a project manager.
Charter: This document authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.
Deliverable: Any unique and verifiable product, result, or the capability to perform a service that is required to produce to complete a process, phase, or project.
Project: Temporary efforts with a clear start and finish. Projects are not ongoing. Projects have an end result – something created or completed.
Project Management: The applications of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Requirement: A condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result.
Resource: Skilled human resources, equipment, services, supplies, commodities, materials, budgets, or funds.
Risk: An uncertain event or a condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.
Scope: The sum of the products, services, and results to be provided as a project.
Stakeholder: An individual, group. or organization that may affect, or may be affected by, or perceive to be affected by decisions, activity, or outcome of a project.
Stakeholder Engagement (or Management) Plan: Processes, procedures, tools and techniques to effectively engage stakeholders in project decisions and execution based on the analysis of needs, interests, and potential impact.
Work Breakdown Structure: A step-by-step summary of the work the project team needs to complete to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.
It takes courage to speak to a large crowd.
Every speaker I’ve ever met spends hours perfecting their message. They search for perfect anecdotes and create meaningful slides that support their points. They’re ready to inspire and inform.
As someone who works with speakers, however, all that prep work doesn’t necessarily lead to a polished presentation. Whether you’re a speaker or someone who works regularly with them, there are a few extra steps that need to be taken to make the speaker sing instead of stutter.
Know Your Audience
Speakers know their topics, but they don’t always know their audience. Some audiences come to a presentation with a depth of knowledge and high level of interest. Others? Not so much. The best presenters ask detailed questions about who will be in the audience. They tweak their message to meet audience needs. If you’re working with a speaker, make sure they get this information even if they don’t ask for it.
Use a Mic
Always. It may be tempting to go without a microphone if the audience is small and you’re confident in your ability to project your voice. Don’t. Even a small audience can find it difficult to hear over the clatter of plates being removed from the lunch table. Or a hotel air handling system. Use a microphone. You’ll never regret it.
On a related note, be sure to dress for a microphone. Items like loose jackets, chunky necklaces, or scarves can rub against a mic and drown out your words – or at least serve as another distraction for your audience.
Check Your Tech
Allow ample time to check any technology that you will be using. If using a PowerPoint presentation, load it early so you can check for missing fonts and photos that might not transfer. (Did you know you can a save your fonts WITH your presentation? Search “Save Fonts with PowerPoint” in the “Save As” menu.)
Even checking technology is no guarantee it will work, so be prepared to punt. I once gave a presentation to about 300 emergency room doctors and nurses. I arrived ahead of time, checked the stage, loaded my slide deck, and viewed it on the screen. With 20 minutes left before I spoke, I simply put the plastic lens cover on the projector. When I took the cover off after being introduced, it became apparent that one of bulbs in the projector had burned out. Only half of the image displayed. I continued my presentation sans images.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
If you’re a speaker, identify someone who can help you on the day of the presentation. This person may not be who made the arrangements to get you there in the first place. But this person can get you water, fix your tie. This presentation buddy needs to be available and accessible.
Take a moment to check out the space where you will be speaking. If there is a stage, how do you get on and off of it? Where will you put your notes and your water? If using slides, how will you see them? If all you have is the same screen your audience is looking at, think about how to handle it. You don’t want to spend a lot of time with your back to the audience.
Most speakers will practice their presentations. But there are other elements that need to be rehearsed. Pay close attention to the transitions. Is someone introducing you? If so, what will happen when you take the stage? Do you shake hands? Hug? High five? At the end of your presentation, what happens next? If a host or emcee is taking the stage, work out ahead of time what that interaction will look like (and where!).
Take time for a short walk-through. This will guarantee the audience’s last impression won’t be one of uncertainty and awkwardness. An eight-hour conference can be run through in less than an hour if all you focus on is the transitions. I have never had a client regret this time.
Do you have handouts? Think about how you will get them distributed. If they can’t be included in conference packets ahead of time, arrive early and place them on tables. Distribution while you are presenting is often distracting. A nice stack in the middle of the table keeps them out of the way as people arrive, but still handy.
Invest in a Clock
Time. Give it some thought. If you have 45 minutes, does that include time for questions? Ten minutes of questions can go by very quickly. Keeping track of time while on stage can be more challenging than it seems. Larger conferences may provide a speaker timer near the front of the stage. If that isn’t an option, bring a battery-operated wall clock. It can be set somewhere just off stage where it is visible to you. Your cell phone seems like a great option . . . until you forget to go back to the podium to look at it!
Paying attention to these small details makes a difference. Good luck on your next presentation!
We have some news to share: our team will soon be a little smaller.
Sean Kelly resigned his position at Reach Partners. His last day with us is October 5.
Sean joined our team more than a year ago. During that time, he has been a passionate advocate for our work. He connected us to new partners in the community and kept our technical skills sharp. He also constantly filled an office candy jar full of good chocolate.
Never underestimate the pick-me-up power of a good piece of chocolate.
In all seriousness, we are grateful for the gifts Sean has brought to our team. He shares our values and supported our mission endlessly. We are sad to see him go.
Sean is taking his many talents (and chocolate!) to Click Content Studios, a part of Forum Communications Company. There he will oversee a team of videographers and coordinate the creation of video projects.
We wish Sean the best as he steps into this role. We know he will do well.
Thanks, Sean, for the good memories and the good work. We look forward to connecting for coffee soon!
Even if “project manager” isn’t part of your title or job description, you likely will have to oversee a project at some point in your career. After all, projects occur at every level of all organizations, industries and professions.
Maybe you’ve been asked to organize a day-long staff retreat or a special anniversary celebration. Or maybe you’ve been asked to coordinate art and text for a marketing campaign.
For projects both complex and simple, a practical and solid plan can make everything flow more smoothly – AND make you look brilliant. (And who doesn’t want that?)
In short, everyone can benefit from a few project management skills.
Whether you’re new to project management or are looking for a few tools to effectively run your own projects, we recommend starting with these five tips.
1. Identify the project objectives.
Every project begins with two questions: What is your understanding of the task? and What will the deliverable look like? Don’t even think about starting a project until you answer those. Jot the answers into a document. This is the start of your project charter, a go-to document that lists the project basics from goals and scope to budget and timeline. This helps you communicate with stakeholders and measure progress. Use it!
2. Develop action steps.
“Begin at the beginning," advised the King as he prompted Alice in Wonderland to tell about her adventures. That’s good advice for managing a project too. Start by listing the first three steps. Categorize each task. Continue this process until you’ve listed every action step needed to get the work done. This work breakdown structure is basically a glorified (and very detailed!) to-do list. It will help you identify where team members and other resources are needed.
3. Get organized.
Maybe you've never won any “most organized” awards. Now is the time to do better. Capture ideas, requests and actions using one notebook, sticky notes, or an Excel document. Experiment using digital tools like Trello to keep you and resources in one place. The type of tool you use is less important than being confident that you know what is required, the action steps needed, and most important, how to communicate them to the team. What tools work for you?
4. Identify risks.
For project managers, a risk is anything that she doesn't have control over. For example, could less funding come through than estimated? Might a timeline be crunched because of a scheduled vacation? What if an event sells out quickly or a new product is so popular that supply can't keep up with demand?
Take a few minutes to list all of the risks that may affect your project. (Go ahead – put them in the project charter.) Think about both positive and negative events that you can't control. Once you've identified the risks, you can work on finding solutions or contingency actions to mitigate them. Trust us. You will never regret taking the time to think through potential risks and brainstorming ways to turn them into opportunities.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
As your project moves forward, be sure to track and communicate project progress. Be sure you know who your team and stakeholders are. Think about what information they need and how frequently they need it – and the best way to reach them. Tools for sharing your progress include communication plans, meeting agendas and project reports. Communicate frequently road blocks, successes, failures, resource needs, meetings, and action steps. You can never over-communicate.
These five steps will get any project heading in the right direction. And you’ll know you’ve done everything you can to make it successful.
In our work, we get some interesting requests.
One of the most memorable came from a client who regularly produces commercials. One afternoon we received a panicked call from the project manager overseeing an upcoming shoot.
The team had written the script, cast the talent, and ordered the props. The production team was scheduled and ready to go.
There was one problem. Because of unexpected circumstances, a major element of the set was missing: the walls.
The phone conversation went something like this:
“We need materials for interior walls, plus the wall constructed and installed at the set by eight a.m.”
“Give me 20 minutes, and I’ll call you back,” said Anita.
Within 10 minutes, Anita identified a solution. She found a builder and confirmed materials, building plans, and delivery. Less than 36 hours later, the set walls were delivered and assembled.
These types of requests are rare, but at Reach Partners we embrace the challenge of making the seemingly impossible become possible. In particular, we are thrilled when we can connect the right people at the right time to get a project done.
We can do this because we have good connections – a short list of go-to people whom will take our calls any time of day. These people have been in the trenches with us before and know how to work with us. We can skip formalities and focus quickly on what needs to be done.
Everybody needs these types of relationships – vendors, subcontractors, and amazingly talented people who can save your butt (and project!) when the unexpected pops up.
For many clients, Reach Partners is on that short list – mostly because we have those connections that can solve seemingly impossible problems. We recognize that these relationships and connections are among our most valuable resources.
Do you have a short list of go-to folks whom you rely on professionally and personally? Whom do you call when you needed promotional items ordered yesterday? Or your hair stylist moves to Texas?
If you don’t have a short list of go-to connections, now is the time to start developing one. Form a close relationship with a lawyer, editor, fix-it gal, restauranteur, graphic designer, printer, massage therapist, yogi, accountant, cook, talent agent, writer.
There’s no end to the skillsets and networking – the value – that these connections can bring to your work and life.
Suicide and suicide-related behaviors can be newsworthy topics. But how those stories are shared makes a difference in how others in the community view and respond to suicide.
We helped to shine light on this topic when we designed and planned a communications conference for news media and spokespeople.
Mental Health America of North Dakota and partner agencies wanted to erase the stigma around suicide, while increasing the likelihood that vulnerable individuals would seek help after viewing or reading a story about suicide.
To address this issue, they received a grant to hold a communications summit for news media and organizational spokespeople. They asked Reach Partners to join the summit’s planning committee and to oversee details of the conference, which was held in both Fargo and Bismarck.
“It was an honor to do this,” says Anita Hoffarth, co-owner of Reach Partners. “We were a key part of the committee.”
The group invited Daniel J. Reidenberg, executive director of S.A.V.E. (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), to share best practices in reporting on suicide. In addition, a panel of survivors of suicide loss shared their personal experiences. They spoke about what it was like to be interviewed by members of the media and how the language and headlines used affected their families.
Sixty-five members of the media, public information officers, law enforcement and educators attended the conference. Conference planners assembled educational resources to distribute to those who had been invited but couldn’t attend.
During the half-day event, attendees learned more about suicide and how reporting and messaging could make a difference in whether viewers and readers would consider suicide or seek help.
One best practice shared was to no longer use the phrase “commit suicide” since the verb suggests the person conducted a crime. Instead reporters were encouraged to say “died by suicide.”
In a post-conference evaluation, 100 percent of the attendees said they were likely to use the information presented the next time they had to report on a suicide.
“I learned a lot of useful things and important considerations for my stories in the future. Thanks!” wrote one attendee.
Local news reports began to reflect many of the best practices shared at the summit – and journalists continue to be more responsible in their reports.
“I’ve even become more careful in how I talk about suicide and share with others what I learned,” Anita says.
Few things make people in a group setting more uncomfortable than silence.
People look awkwardly at their phones or notebooks while the lack of speech weighs heavily in the air. Nobody makes eye contact until someone breaks the tension with nervous laughter.
But, shhhh . . .
There’s power in that silence.
Musicians know this. A few (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Claude Debussy, as a start) have been credited with variations on the sentiment that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Or as the jazz musician Miles Davis put it: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Silence gives noise meaning. In many situations, it is a golden ticket to stronger communication and building trust.
After all, when we have a message to deliver, we want people to listen. Silence may signal that someone is actively paying attention and they need a moment to collect their thoughts before responding. Silence, in this case, suggests they’ve actually listened to the conversation before forming their own commentary.
Posing a good question to the group also may result in quiet space. People are thinking, figuring out how to frame their responses. Consider the communication styles of those around you. While some people work through their ideas verbally, others need a few minutes of quiet time to collect their thoughts and courage.
If a group is brainstorming or sharing ideas, you can expect that conversation will ebb and flow. For a few minutes, ideas may come very quickly and then the pace slows down. Just as a piece of music may contain different time signatures, this rhythm may change multiple times throughout the conversation. If you don’t allow space between the noise, ideas could be left out.
There are times, of course, that silence signals a problem.
For example, phone conversations or conference calls are difficult to monitor when it comes to silence. Because you can’t read non-verbal cues, it’s challenging to know whether silence means a person is thinking (perfect!), walked away in frustration (not perfect!), or got disconnected (oops!).
If you are gathering in person, silence could signal that everyone isn’t prepared for the meeting. Just because you created a thorough agenda doesn’t mean everyone has read it. Watch body language to determine whether people need a moment to compose their thoughts or they haven’t completed their homework.
The most difficult part about silence may not be interpreting it, but in allowing it to happen. Handling a bit of silence may be more challenging than you think.
We’re so used to filling quiet with sound that true silence may feel like eternity even if it’s only a few seconds or more.
If you’re tempted to jump in with a comment, stop. Count silently in your head or watch the second hand of a clock. Don’t fall into the trap of rescuing anybody. Let the awkward silence achieve its superpower.
You won’t have to wait long. In my experience someone will start talking in 10 seconds or less. Someone almost always does.
Shhh . . . wait for it.
Think about the last time you showed up for a meeting.
Did the group leader take a moment and review why the group was gathered? Did she summarize what had been agreed upon at the last meeting and what needed to be accomplished at this one?
How did that meeting go?
When a group meets, it pays to devote two to three minutes at the start of every meeting to recap previous efforts and share a vision for the future.
This does not mean you revisit the previous meeting’s entire agenda. Projects would never move forward if you did that. But taking a few minutes to share where things are at or what has happened since the last meeting can be beneficial.
To be clear, a recap is different than sending out meeting notes or minutes (which should be distributed after each gathering). But if you assume that everyone in the meeting has read the previous meeting notes, you are likely to be disappointed. (No judgment here. It’s reality.)
Even if everyone reads the notes and were at the last meeting, they will appreciate a reminder of what is going on, where things are headed, and what needs to be done.
After all, people make better decisions when they have context for the questions, needs, or purpose.
Start your recap with a statement of purpose, declare why you are meeting. Dignify past efforts by briefly providing the facts: the who, what, when, why. Let them know what needs attention and action today.
This statement can be part of each agenda and read by someone at the start of each meeting. The brief summary allows everyone to move as a team and step into the role of decision maker. It serves as a friendly reminder of why the group has gathered and keeps everyone focused on what is important at the moment.
There’s another way to look at it is like this. To move forward as a team, you should:
Identify purpose + Summarize steps taken + Identify desired outcome
If you want to make progress, it’s always worth taking a step or two backwards to recap.