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.
The same principle is true in communication. Effective communication happens with a clear intention, specifically to meet an organizational goal. The first step in effective communication is to identify the goal, why it is that an organization needs to communicate something. The goal is always to cause some reaction – to cause stakeholders think, feel, know or do something that will help to achieve the organizational goal.
Once that first step is complete, the next challenge is to determine the strategy, the plan for how to communicate in a way that will cause the desired reaction. The key is to determine the audiences that need to be reached and the ways in which you can connect with and move those audiences.
The next step is tactics, what the organization will actually do to communicate with the audience. This is the stage where specific engagements with the audience happen, where various methods of communication are utilized, and where the two-way conversation between an organization and its stakeholders takes place.
If organizations engage is this process of planning communication, then they will likely achieve their goal. But without thoughtful and disciplined planning as to how an organization or leader will communicate, it becomes far less likely that the organization will move its audience in the way that will achieve the goal.
Just as dancers go through the process of discerning the goal, choreographing a routine, and then performing it, organizations need to strategically plan communication if they hope to communicate effectively.
This blog is part of a series “Lessons in Communication from a Dancer,” which uses principles and skills of dance as a way to better understand the key principles of effective communication.