Author Archives: Katie Garica

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We See You; We Stand with You: A Case Study in Connecting with Your Audience on its Terms

“This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we will get there together.”

-United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch[i]

This statement from US Attorney General Loretta Lynch closed the press conference on May 9, 2016, when the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it is suing the state of North Carolina, its Governor Pat McCory, its Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina. The DOJ is suing in order to invalidate North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2. The bill, in part, requires transgender people to use public bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms based their biological sex, rather than their gender identity.[ii]

shutterstock_418471252House Bill 2, which was passed the North Carolina General Assembly on March 23, has received stark criticism from across the country and incited boycotts from celebrities and businesses planning to work in the state.[iii] In early May, the DOJ notified state officials that this law violated federal civil rights laws and asked the state to certify that it would not implement the bathroom restriction of the law.[iv] In response, North Carolina sued the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice sued right back.

The legal arguments are significant in order to understand federal civil rights and how they affect LGBTQ Americans. But the focus of this case study is not the legal arguments, but rather how Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke directly to North Carolinians and transgender Americans in her announcement of the lawsuit. Lynch did not merely announce the DOJ’s legal action against the state, but practiced the principle of connecting with those audiences most directly impacted by this lawsuit on their terms.

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Performing the Dance Clearly and with Inevitability: Learning How to Be Adaptable, Nimble, and Effective When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

“Dance is communication, and so the great challenge is to speak clearly, beautifully, and with inevitability.”

-Martha Graham

In ballroom dancing, the steps are almost always choreographed before a dance is performed. There is a plan in place. And the dancers’ job is to perform the choreography with the proper technique and embody the story though movement to the best of their ability. But sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

Whether on a competition floor or on a showcase stage, there are times when something goes awry. Maybe a dancer forgets a step, or falls out of sync, or gets injured, or has a wardrobe malfunction. It happens to everyone.

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The Story Behind the Curtain: A Case Study in Strategically Planning Communication

“Hello. This is John Doe. Interested in data?”

-John Doe (as reported in The Washington Post)[i]

How would you respond to a message like this? A message like this from someone identifying him or herself as John Doe would probably spark some curiosity, as well as confusion. It certainly peaked the curiosity Bastian Obermayer when he received this message through an encrypted chat in late 2014.

Obermayer, a reporter with the German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung, responded, “Who are you?” John Doe said, “I’m nobody. Just a concerned citizen.”[ii]

This exchange began the transfer of 11.5 million documents and the year-long investigation involving more than 370 journalists from about 100 news organizations across more than 70 countries that was internally known as Project Prometheus, but what we now know as The Panama Papers.[iii]

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Filling the Empty Space: Strategically Planning Communication to Achieve Your Goals

“The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity. I am a dancer and a choreographer.”

-Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life[i]

In every type of dancing, movement is choreographed. Whenever formally performing, dancers turn to choreography to create a dance that will most effectively convey the story they wish to tell.

In ballroom dancing, dancers prepare choreographed routines for two different types of settings – either for a competition or for a show. For a competition, the dancer’s goal is to show off his or her abilities, particularly through the quality of his or her technique, timing within the music, connection to his or her partner, and performance value of the routine. Show dance routines are story driven. Dancers tell the story through their movement, the emotion conveyed in the movement, and their connection to the other dancer.

Whether for a competition or a show, all of this movement is choreographed. The goal of the dance, the intention, is the starting point. But having the goal and clear intention is not enough to make a great dance. The choreographer is charged with filling the blank space – coming up with a routine that will guide the dancers and that will leave an impact on the intended audience. The choreography is the plan for how the dancers can achieve their goal – whether it is to impress the judges or tell the audience a story.

To make a great dance, the movement needs to be planned. The choreography, the planning, is integral to dancers achieving their goal.

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Not a Lone Voice, But Many: A Case Study in Harnessing the Power of Stories

“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls. Today, I tell their stories too.”

-Malala Yousafzai

A young girl, because of the cultural, socioeconomic, and political circumstances in which she lives, is unable to go to school safely. This is a tragically common story for millions of women and girls around the world. But the story of a girl speaking out publicly against the violent forces attempting to keep her from going to school – being attacked by those forces –  and surviving potentially fatal injuries to speak out even more strongly about this issue is not a common story. This story is, in fact, unique – which is why the story of Malala Yousafzai has spread across the globe.

Malala Yousafzai, the now 18-year old Pakistani girl from Swat Valley who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for speaking out for the girls’ right to education, has become a household name. Malala’s story has been told ever since she started writing for the BBC at the age of 11 under the pen name Gulu Makai. But her story has risen to greater prominence from the news coverage since the attack against her and her continued global activism, her book I Am Malala, and the documentary about her, He Named Me Malala.  This young girl has had the opportunity to address heads of state, to speak and travel internationally, and to build a global organization, The Malala Fund. This is not only due to her activism and laudable work, but in large part because of the power of her story. Malala has been able to harness her own story, and the story of other young girls, to build support for her organization’s work to advocate for and to create more opportunities for girls to receive an education.

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Giving the Audience Something that Will Change Them: Harnessing the Power of Stories to Move People

“A dancer, if she is great, can give to the person something that they can carry with them forever. They can never forget it, and it has changed them, though they may never know it.”

-Isadora Duncan[i]

Great dancing tells a story. Bodies moving together in synchronicity, connecting emotionally to each other and to the music, communicate a story without words. The story may be a clear narrative of individual lives or abstract manifestations of a feeling or an emotion. Sometimes the most powerful stories told through dance are snapshots of a moment, a reflection of life itself.

Great dancing tells a story. Specifically, great dancing tells a story that people connect with. And when we see a great dance, it can move us, sometimes in ways we do not consciously realize. Dancers do not necessarily need the audience to think something. Rather, the goal more often is to move the audience to feel something. This requires dancers to not only know how their bodies work, but also how the audiences’ hearts and minds work. If dancers hope to move their audience, they need to become visual storytellers.

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What Does Marriage Mean to You: A Case Study in the Art and Science of Framing

“Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.”

-George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant, xv)[1]

Don't Think of an ElephantGeorge Lakoff, the cognitive linguist who pioneered the study of framing and its influence on people, has not only written extensively on the science of framing, but also about how politicians and activists, specifically progressives, can use framing to change the public discourse. One such writing is Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which was published in 2004 specifically as a guide for progressives to change the political debate at the time by reframing the issues from the conservative’s framework to the progressive’s. As Lakoff said, reframing is social change. This small book was about the art, not the science, of framing.

In this book, Lakoff examined several examples of political and social issues, breaking down the current framing and making recommendations about how progressives could reframe an issue to their advantage. One such example was marriage equality. “What’s in a word?” Lakoff asked. “Plenty, if the word is marriage.”[2]

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How We Interpret the Dance: The Art and Science of Framing

How can you tell a waltz from a tango? A rumba from a cha cha? A quickstep from a samba? It’s starts with the music. When the music starts playing, it becomes clear which kind of dance can be performed to it. The music becomes the frame that determines the dance.

What does this mean? Every song has a beat and a tempo. The beat is the pulse of the song, the individual strokes of measured time in the music. It is the rhythm of the song. The tempo is the speed of the song. It is the rate of the repeating beats over time. Dancers are trained to recognize the beat and tempo of a song. Together it gives them the timing for their dance. Dancers know which type of dances fit with the particular beat and tempo of the music, and know which movements make sense within a type of dance. That becomes the dancers’ frame. And so when dancers hear a song, they know which type or types of dances can be done to the music and which steps and movements they can do.

But what happens when the movements do not fit within a particular dance style or with the musical beat and tempo? What would happen if dancers begin to do fast-paced salsa steps in the middle of a slow waltz? It would look like something is wrong. Even a non-dancer would recognize that something is off.

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We Rise and Fall Together: A Case Study in Connecting with Your Audience on its Terms

Since the beginning of his term, President Obama spoke about the need to build bridges of understanding with the Islamic community. He voiced repeatedly that Islamic extremists are not representative of Islam or the majority of Muslims in the U.S. and around the world. From his address in Cairo in 2009 to his final State of the Union, President Obama repeated these statements and yet they did not seem to build the greater understanding he called for.

Meanwhile, blunt generalizations about Muslims and Islamic extremists have been part of the political discourse in the 2016 election season. Politicians have vowed to prevent Muslim refugees from coming into their states or into the country. In the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, there has been an increase in incidents against Muslims happening across the U.S., including a Sikh man wearing a Turban who was barred from boarding an airplane into the U.S. and a young girl whose hijab was torn off her head by three older classmates in her New York middle school. And all of this has contributed to the extremists’ rhetoric being legitimized by their enemies and moderate Muslims being persuaded towards extremist groups.

President Obama needed to change the narrative of Muslims and Americans being at war with or in opposition to each other. He needed to do something different to ensure that Muslim Americans knew that the U.S. government does not condone the hateful rhetoric against Muslims and is committed to promoting the greater understanding that needs to happen between Muslims and non-Muslims in the U.S. He needed to connect with Muslim Americans on their terms if he hoped to persuasive. And so he did something he had not yet done as president: he visited a U.S. mosque.

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Heart to Heart Connection: Connecting with Your Audience on Its Terms

Most of us, at one point or another, have an experience of dancing with someone. Maybe it was very formal, like a big event, or something informal, like dancing with a bunch of friends at a club or party. Did you ever end up dancing with someone you didn’t know and you have no idea what this person is doing, and what you are expected to do in response? As anyone who has had this experience can attest, when you don’t know the person you are dancing with, if you do not understand what that person is doing and expecting you to do, it is much harder to move well together.

In ballroom dancing, dancers need to connect to their partners. It is not enough to know the steps of a dance. Dancers need to connect to the person they are dancing with in order to create the dance itself.

Earlier I discussed the dynamic of leading and following, and the clear intention with each movement to produce a particular result. Dancers need to be able to communicate that intention to one another without words, and move together as a connected being rather than two creatures dancing alone. But it is more than the push and pull action; it requires a strong connection to correctly interpret the push and pull.

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