By Ann Glumac 

While Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra made some outrageous statements, his quote in this title demonstrates that even he knew the risks of setting out without a destination in mind.

Would-be communicators who don’t start communicating with a destination in mind frequently find they’ve wound up someplace else — sometimes with truly unfortunate consequences.

Identifying clear communication goals is critical.

The environmental engineer who doesn’t identify goals for her presentation to a neighborhood association on a proposed landfill might find herself in the midst of an angry crowd. The geologist who doesn’t articulate what he wants to accomplish from his presentation to potential investors might leave the meeting without needed financial support. The software developer who doesn’t hone in on key features for folks who stop by his booth at a trade show might leave with aching feet but without any sales.

Effective communicators identify the goals of their communication before they start developing it.  In fact, establishing communication goals is critical for any and all forms of communication — emails, speeches, brochures, news releases, question and answer sessions, sales pitches and more.

We do this naturally every day. Our goal in communicating with a waiter is to let him know what food we want. Our goal in a letter of recommendation is to encourage the recipient to think highly of the person being recommended. Our goal in telling our dog “Down!” is to get her to stop jumping.

If this is so natural, why do we fall short when it comes to presentations and other communication? Why do we ignore our natural inclinations?

For many of us – especially those with a special expertise – our first inclination may be to share all we know on a topic, to educate the audience. Instead, we bring the audience to its knees, awash in detail it can never fully comprehend.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

While two-year-olds have been asking “Why?” since time began, the Five Whys is a management technique that can help determine where you want to end up after your communication is complete – in other words, it can help you identify your communications goals.

Some questions you might ask:

  • Why are you communicating with the audience? To persuade them? To provide information necessary for their lives? To entertain them?  To generate support?
  • Why this particular audience? Are they decision-makers or affected by a decision? Are they possible allies? Are they possible roadblocks?
  • Why this specific topic? Why is it important to them?
  • Why should they care? How are they affected by your presentation topic?
  • Why is it important for them to hear from you now? Is a decision about to be made about which they need to be informed?

What about the Whats?

As long as we’re at it, let’s ask some other questions:

  •  What three, key messages are you trying to convey? What limited number of messages do you want the audience to remember and repeat to family, friends or colleagues about your presentation?
  • What data is critical to conveying those key messages? What is the best way to share that data?
  • What outcome or outcomes do you hope to achieve? Do you want people to write letters of support for your project? Do you want audience members to contribute financially? Are you looking for volunteers?
  • What kind of atmosphere do you want to create with the audience? A relaxed, informal conversation or a formal presentation?

Setting your communication goals:

Once you’ve asked – and answered – the types of questions listed above, use the answers to set goals for your communication and tailor it to ensure you achieve your stated goals.

Our friend the environmental engineer making a presentation to the neighborhood association about a new landfill might identify these goals:

  • To inform the nearest neighbors to the landfill about the planning timeline;
  • To share which environmental issues are being studied; and
  • To let neighbors know how they can participate in the permitting process.

The geologist presenting to potential investors might find the following goals lead to financing:

To provide an understanding of the relative high quality of the ore deposit;

  • To share information on the ease of processing and marketing the ore; and
  • To let would-be investors know exactly how they can participate in the project financially.

The software developer hoping to make sales at the trade show might consider these communication goals:

  • To quickly articulate the unique benefits of the software;
  • To demonstrate how the software can meet the audience’s needs; and
  • To instill confidence that this is a quality product backed by solid research and development.

Starting any communication effort by listing the goals you’re trying to achieve will make it far more likely that you’ll wind up where you want to wind up – not “someplace else.”

How do you use goals to help shape your communications?

I’d be interested in hearing about experiences where goals got you to where you wanted to be …. I’d also like to know when the lack of clearly articulated goals meant you wound up “someplace else.”

Please share your experiences below.