Tuesday, Jul 27th

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A Communication Model

The way you communicate your ideas to an audience: – you transmit the idea through the medium of speech, and you receive feedback from the audience to let you know how well your speech is getting across.

In the process of communication, some of the meaning that you have in your mind – both simple meaning and the more ambiguous or emotive meaning in your speech – is lost.

Let’s look at three ways that you can minimise this loss, making sure that all your meaning gets across to the audience.

1. Physical

  • Volume: make sure you are speaking loudly enough to be heard, but not so loud that people can’t take in your words.
  • Pace and clarity: make sure that you speak at a rate that can be easily followed, and clearly enunciate your words so that people can understand them.

2. Psychological

  • Tone and pause: vary the way you use your voice to break up your sound – people will ‘tune out’ from a monotonous speaker, so change your pitch and speed as you move from section to section.
  • Body language: much of our communication is nonverbal, so make sure that your body is making ‘open’ gestures, like facing forward and using your arms freely to  gesture (but not over gesture) in support of your words; avoid ‘closed’ gestures like folding your arms, turning away or hanging your head.
  • Facial expressions and eye contact: even more important than your body is your face. The audience needs to feel that you’re speaking to them, so make eye contact with as many members of the audience as you can. You need to convince them that you are confident in what you are saying, so smile and you’ll set both yourself and the audience at ease.

3. Linguistic

  • Vocabulary: make sure that you are using words that everyone in the audience can understand. Although all your audiences will speak English, we each use that language in a different way, and we have to be careful not to slip into colloquialisms and slang that may exclude part or all of the audience.
  • Jargon: It can be tempting, if you have spent a long time researching a topic, to use a lot of technical words in your speech, or to refer to things by abbreviations or unfamiliar titles. Remember that your audience will probably not be as knowledgeable as you on your own subject, so always explain these things in ordinary language.
  • Word choice: English is full of synonyms – two or more different words that refer to the same idea, object or concept. Different words conjure up different ideas of that same object in people’s heads, depending on the wider associations of the word. For example, if we say:

“Human beings have an innate tendency to exploit the resources of their environment in a non-sustainable fashion, which will lead to a point of such depletion that the use-value of those resources becomes nil.” we are being much less effective in raising the audience’s concerns than if we try to connect the quite academic sounding ideas that we are expressing to images the audience may already have in their minds, like this:

“Everything mankind touches it seems to destroy – felling forests, draining lakes, burning ancient jungles long since fossilised into oil and coal; sooner or later we’re going to realise that there’s nothing left to destroy – those forests, those lakes, and most of all, those fossilised jungles, aren’t coming back.”

Not only have we illustrated the point with imagery of what is actually going on, but we’ve also substituted “destroy” for “exploit in a non-sustainable fashion” – so ‘destroy’ is a word with negative connotations, the audience will feel more indignant towards the phenomenon we are describing. This aspect of word choice can work in reverse too – to play down things that we wish the audience to think about less or take less seriously. For example, rather than saying: “We will have sacrifice a lot of luxuries like foreign holidays and exotic foods if we are going to have any impact on our carbon dioxide emissions.” we might say: “Simply using less of some of our unnecessary extravagances in life could make a huge difference to how much global warming we cause.”