Developing a Communication Strategy
I’m pleased to welcome you to the final episode of our introductory series.
A lot of time and effort has gone into developing these audio lectures, and over the past two years our video and animation team have done some wonderful work creating visual representations of the concepts from these discussions.
I want to begin this episode by expressing my gratitude to our production team at The Human Communication Studio- you guys have done some incredible work.
And I’d like to encourage listeners to visit the video learning link at the human communication studio website to view the first four videos of our series for free on our new platform.
We’ve spent twelve episodes discussing 10 basics concepts that make up our fundamental communicative tool set.
We’ve introduced Diaphragmatic Breath, speech patterns such as One Breath-One Thought and Think Breathe Speak-
We’ve discussed how Physical Orientation and Line Focus influence the attention relationship-
We’ve covered the concepts of physical composition, how Horizontal, Level, and Plane can be used to describe the way the body occupies and moves through space-
We talked about how Frame and Stance can be used to both soften and amplify the impact of physicality-
And we’ve addressed how these concepts behave in proscenium, in the round, and thrust stage presentation environments.
We introduced exercises that give us more agency and control of the voice, and we explored some performance prep routines that warm up the articulators and help the voice to settle into a strong, concentrated soft palate focus.
And on top of that foundation we added ideas about Organic and Deliberate Gesture, and how patterns of Rounded Gesture and Linear Gesture work with Frame and Stance in support of verbal content.
All of these concepts compose a set of fundamental skills-
But skills are only one component of a communication strategy.
There are two other components that inform the tools we select and how we use them.
One of those components is the Given Circumstance of a communication, and the other component is the Desired Outcome of the communication.
The relationship between these governing elements is fluid, but the basic idea is pretty simple.
We take our Fundamental Skill set, we apply it to our Given Circumstances, and we work toward our Desired Outcome.
Let’s take Given Circumstances first.
In order to ensure we have the best decision making opportunities available to us, we need to develop and maintain our situational awareness.
Six questions can help us to take the guesswork out of what type of information we need and where to begin collecting it.
Here’s the basic template:
WHO is involved in the communication?
WHAT is the communication about?
WHEN is the communication taking place?
WHERE is the communication happening?
WHY is the communication needed?
And HOW is the information to be exchanged?
WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY and HOW.
Responses to these questions describe your Given Circumstances.
So why are those circumstances important?
They matter because the unique circumstances of an interaction both alter the function of communicative tools and affect the Desired Outcome.
Here are some obvious examples:
We might use our Line Focus differently in a meeting with a prospective client than we would at happy hour with our colleagues.
We might employ different gestural patterns to animate our fan theory on a favorite series than we would use in a salary negotiation with our boss.
A teacher may employ different strategies to maintain student attention early in the morning than they do during the last class of the school day.
We use the voice one way in a private office meeting and in quite another in a crowded auditorium.
We may apply an entirely separate approach when we are seeking information than we do when we are the ones providing it.
And the expressions we employ in an email or a text message can seem awkward and out of place if used in a face to face interaction.
Those are very basic examples, but they demonstrate a clear idea:
Patterns remain constant, a rounded gesture is a rounded gesture, but how that pattern behaves will be impacted by each unique set of circumstances.
That means that some patterns are more suited to certain settings than others.
Speaking before ten people will be different than speaking before a thousand.
Speaking from a podium requires a different combination of skills than does a handheld microphone on an open stage.
A phone call or a video conference can amplify certain features and fail to capture others.
And the strategies that work for one personality may compromise the success of another.
I frequently find that the same Wide Stance that empowers one client can cause another to dissolve into their anxiety.
That’s why collecting details about what we know about ourselves, our communication partners, and our communicative environments is so important to communicative success.
It helps us make an informed choice when selecting tools that both fit our personality and serve our Desired Outcome.
Now let’s talk about how the Desired Outcome can impact our decision making.
Objectives and goals are an important component to every strategy.
They become a big part of the WHY in our list of Given Circumstances.
That part should be pretty clear.
But selecting goals that empower your performance requires a little more attention than simply deciding what you want.
Everyone wants to “win,” to “succeed,” or to “do well.”
But those are abstract goals.
These types of goals are difficult to strategize around, because the objectives are broad and poorly defined.
You want “victory,” but victory over what obstacle?
You want to “succeed,” but success in what pursuit?
An easy way to approach this is to consider that an effective Desired Outcome has two important characteristics.
It should inform the use of Fundamental Skills, and it should be achievable.
For Instance, if I stand before an audience in a debate, there are different ways that I can frame my Desired Outcome.
One outcome could simply be that I defeat my opponent, but that outcome doesn’t offer me any direction – it fails to provide me a clear path forward.
After all- I can’t will it into being, I have to act it into being.
Instead I might look for an outcome that gives me better footholds for building a strategy.
Instead of channeling my performance toward the defeat of an opponent, I could focus on a performance that earns my audience’s vote.
That is a Desired Outcome that is both directive and achievable.
It gives me clearly identifiable action items, and it produces a clear and measurable result.
To persuade my audience of voters I can use my tools to fulfil their expectation of a candidate, I can educate the voter about my stances and positions, and I can use my physicality to capture and maintain audience attention.
Forming those intentions ahead of time allows me to structure the use of my tools, and to ensure that the patterns I employ remain compatible with my desire to persuade voters.
So multiple Intentions can serve to support a single Desired Outcome.
Let’s look at how that works.
Say I am presenting my research at a conference.
My Desired Outcome could be that my audience leaves my talk with a continued curiosity about my corner of the field.
That outcome is directive and achievable, but in order to support it I need to organize and guide my presentation with a series of Actionable Intentions.
We can separate those intentions into three categories: Intentions that are Social, meaning that they focus on a mutual exchange with a partner; Intentions that are Amplified, meaning that they are more monodirectional; and Intentions that are Balanced, meaning that they engage with but do not limit themselves to a feedback relationship.
Some examples of Social Intentions are: I am going to SHARE, RESPOND, ASURE, REQUEST, or RESOLVE.
Some examples of Amplified Intentions would be: I am going to CHALLENGE, IMPRESS, MOTIVATE, CONFRONT, or DEFEND.
And some examples of Balanced Intentions include: I am going to TEACH, EMPOWER, EXPLORE, EXAMINE, or REVEAL.
So If my Desired Outcome is that my audience recognizes the contributions of my research, I may wish to draw on several different Actionable Intentions throughout my presentation to achieve that result.
An exhibition of the value of my material could include a Balanced Intention to DEMONSTRATE, a Social Intention to SHARE, and an Amplified Intention to IMPRESS or MOTIVATE.
Once I have that rough outline, I can begin to map out how I want to apply my Fundamental Skills.
For instance I know that I can support my intention to SHARE with softeners like a Quarter Turn and flexible, rounded gestures.
I know that I can support my intention to MOTIVATE by using amplifiers like a Full Front orientation, adopting a wider stance, extending my gesture, or employing a forward plane change.
And I know that I can support my intention to DEMONSTRATE by applying softer Line Focus and rounded Gesture to my narrative, and direct Line Focus and Linear Gesture to my factual delivery.
Especially if I am facilitating information from a presentation screen or exhibit.
Now of course, my options are not limited to using those specific skills in that prescribed sequence-
There are innumerable ways to combine our Fundamental Skills to arrive at a Desired Outcome.
But the functionality of this system allows me to quickly determine how to support what I want to achieve with tools I already possess and patterns that I have practiced.
Breaking a Desired Outcome into Actionable Intentions, and identifying which of our Fundamental Skills support those intentions, lets us build an efficient strategic framework in a short amount of time.
We Identify the Given Circumstances, we select a Desired Outcome, and we apply our Fundamental Skills to work toward our Actionable Intentions.
That framework can remain lean and flexible, or it can grow detailed and complex, but the organization serves a critical purpose.
It helps us to decide where to begin.
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I’m excited for you to experience how the foundation you’ve developed here can serve a diverse range of communicative goals.
The question of WHO makes an important contribution to the Given Circumstances of an interaction.
Whether we are dealing with a single communication partner at work, with a large audience, or we’re involved in a discussion with a spouse, most Desired Outcomes will require that we navigate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of other people involved in a communication.
An effective way to plan for this is to ask a series of four questions:
What do I want a person Think, Feel, Sense, and Report to others about their experience with me?
We aren’t in control of what a communication partner brings with them to an interaction, but we do have agency over what they take with them when they leave.
This set of questions, THINK, FEEL, SENSE, REPORT, can be thought of as a guide to identifying and influencing that audience perception.
And it’s also a good way to cross check the contributions made by the Actionable Intentions we select.
Let’s work through a hypothetical scenario together.
I’ll imagine that I need to meet with my budget director to extend funding for a project.
The Desired Outcome here is pretty simple-
I want my funding to be extended.
Now before I move into the fine detail of preparing conversationally specific content, I need to build my strategic framework for the interaction.
I’ll begin by establishing some of my Given Circumstances:
WHO? Myself and the budget director
WHAT? A meeting to request additional funding
WHEN? Tuesday at 11AM
WHERE? The office of the budget director
WHY? The scope of work on my project has increased
HOW? Face to Face in a private setting.
After I gather that information, I might select a few intentions that I feel contribute to my Desired Outcome: the extension of funding.
My instinctual objectives might be to EXPLAIN how the scope of work increased, to DEFEND how I allocated resources, to APPEAL for the survival of the project, and to attempt to CONVINCE my director to extend the funding period..
From a broad perspective, those intentions may all seem to act in support of my Desired Outcome.
But if I employ my Audience Perception Guide to cross check those intentions, I may arrive at a more strategic conclusion.
What do I want my budget director to THINK, FEEL, SENSE, and REPORT about our meeting?
I want the director to THINK that my analysis is valid.
I can support that perception with a balanced intention to EXAMINE my conclusions.
I want the director to FEEL confident in the value of my work.
I can support that perception with a more social intention to ADVOCATE the value of my contributions.
I want the director to SENSE that I am responsible.
I can support that perception with an intention to DEMONSTRATE my accountability to my projections.
And I want the director to REPORT to others that I was respectful, confident, and direct in my proposal.
I can support that perception with a more amplified intention to make a clear and unambiguous REQUEST.
So after some quick consideration, I have exchanged an intention to EXPLAIN for an intention to EXAMINE; an intention to DEFEND for an intention to ADVOCATE; an intention to APPEAL with an intention to DEMONSTRATE; and an intention to CONVINCE has been replaced with an intention to make a clear REQUEST.
Now I can enter the meeting armed with Actionable Intentions that work toward achieving my Desired Outcome, and at the same time help to favorably influence the perceptions of my communication partner.
The next step is to select a Point of Influence, a central pattern or tool, to support each Actionable Intention that I bring to my meeting.
Here’s how I might make those selections:
While EXAMINING my budgetary and financial conclusions, especially if I am sharing a document or a graphic representation in a prepared report, I want to convey the validity of my analysis.
In support of this Intention I can select a Physical Orientation that limits the engagement of my Emotional Center.
This does two things, it allows me to more easily access material that is complex, and it allows my communication partner to focus on receiving that material without the complication of a Line Focus request.
So my Point of Influence for EXAMINE will be a Physical Orientation ranging between Profile and a Quarter turn.
After I have presented my analysis, my plan is to ADVOCATE for the value my project can create.
While advocating I want to keep two ideas in mind: I need to simultaneously educate, and petition.
I don’t want to be confrontational, but I do want to be strong and direct.
So in support of this intention I may choose to make my Point of Influence a pattern of two Fundamental tools in concert.
One to facilitate the learner, and one to clearly present the facts.
So my Point of Influence for ADVOCATE can be a pairing of a Quarter Turn to create a shared interaction, and Linear Gesture to underscore a clear set of facts.
My next Intention is to DEMONSTRATE my accountability.
That is likely to include examples of past performance.
To serve this intention I can frame that performance as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
“I made a promise, I developed a plan, I delivered on my promise.”
To do that, and to harness the relationship between Gesture, Articulation, and Thought, I will use Rounded Gesture as my Point of Influence to build narrative.
And for my last Intention, the desire to end our meeting by making a clear, unambiguous REQUEST, I need to capture my director’s full attention and lend emotional power to my final pitch.
I want to build the perception that I am respectful, but also confident and direct.
To do that, I want to provide complete Line Focus to my partner, both drawing and giving full attention.
So my Point of Influence for REQUEST can be a Full Front Physical Orientation.
In less than ten minutes, we have selected a Desired Outcome, established our Given Circumstances, chosen Actionable Intentions, and assigned each intention a supportive Point of Influence.
That’s the basic framework completed.
Of course some interactions require more consideration, and some interactions can be approached without this kind of planning.
But the big idea that I want to leave you with as we wrap up this series is a simple one:
Building a strategic framework for a communication can be streamlined and replicable.
This template is basic, flexible, and offers consistent and familiar performance.
Many clients come to me in a state of paralysis over what exactly they should say and when they should say it.
Between what we’ve seen in film, on television, and absorbed through a sort of societal expectation- its easy to fall under an impression that strategy comes down to saying just the right thing at just the right moment.
And while that may make for great entertainment, it doesn’t serve the communicator very efficiently in the real world.
Notice how we built our strategic framework around intention and action.
We outlined what we wanted to accomplish, the actions we could take to support that outcome, and the skills we would need to enforce those actions.
What we didn’t do is focus on scripting what we wanted to say.
Don’t misunderstand me, verbal content is clearly important.
But in face-to-face interaction, the structure of communication is also a physical one.
Your verbal content can dress that structure in whatever fashion is required, but if you remove the action and physicality from the equation you have all of the paint and none of the house.
Detail is always supported by foundation.
That means the foundation comes first.
I am confident you will find that when you start with a strategic framework, the outline of Actionable Intentions you create will inform, direct, and support your verbal content.
It’s so much easier to approach deciding what to say, and how to say it, when a strategy is driven by what is actionable, and by what is supportive.
We have covered a lot of information over these episodes, and a recap that covers each concept that we’ve explored could easily fill another installment on it’s own.
But instead of leaving you at the end of this series with more repetition, I’d like to conclude with a reminder about how strategic communication adds value to our lives.
It’s actually very simple:
When the future of our research, our education, or our professional lives is measured on communicative fluency, the ability to operate as a strategic communicator can be the difference between failure and success.
But it’s not about being told what to do and what not to do.
It’s about learning how components of face-to-face interaction operate so that we can access them according to their utility.
When we have vocabulary that can be used to identify the patterns present in our interactions, it allows us to make the most of a feedback loop and an external response.
Without it we are stuck describing things as “good” or “bad”- or “always do this”, “never do that”
That doesn’t mean we employ everything we learn or that we are exposed to.
Knowing what works for someone else will not always be a reliable predictor of what will work for you.
But that exposure is crucial to interacting effectively with other communicative partners toward a desired outcome.
This is just as important for the introvert as it is for the innately charismatic.
And a first year student stands to gain as much from strategic preparation as does a veteran public speaker.
Both enjoy the same advantage from being clearly understood.
But you don’t simply acquire the perfect skill set by copying what works for someone else.
You have to build your own.
That means seeking out resources and exploring new ideas- just like what you’re doing now-
And it also means that you experiment with those ideas in the real world.
The methodology behind the skillset you create may be fluid and flexible, but the impact will be concrete.
There’s no way around it- the perceived value of an idea is influenced by how clearly that idea is presented.
Your communicative fluency will always be a deciding factor in your success.