The Speech Communication Process

There are a number of models used to demonstrate the process of public speaking. Many researchers have worked to create a visual image or representation of the communication process so that you can more easily understand the different components and how they work together. The terms used by different authors, texts, and models vary slightly as well, but don’t let that worry you. In this chapter you’ll quickly see that even though the terms and models may vary slightly, the process of communicating is universal.

Most who study the speech communication process agree that there are several critical components present in nearly every speech. We have chosen in this text to label these components using the following terms:

  • Speaker
  • Listener(s)
  • Message
  • Channel
  • Context
  • Interference
  • Feedback

Speaker

As you might imagine, the speaker is the crucial first element within the speech communication process. Without a speaker, there is no process. The speaker is simply the person who is delivering, or presenting, the speech. A speaker might be someone who is training employees in your workplace. Your professor is another example of a public speaker as s/he gives a lecture. Even a stand-up comedian can be considered a public speaker. After all, each of these people is presenting an oral message to an audience in a public setting. Most speakers, however, would agree that the listener is one of the primary reasons that they speak.

Listener

The listener is just as important as the speaker; neither one is effective without the other. The listener is the person or persons who have assembled to hear the oral message. Some texts might even call several listeners an “audience. ” The listener generally forms an opinion as to the effectiveness of the speaker and the validity of the speaker’s message based on what they see and hear during the presentation. The listener’s job sometimes includes critiquing, or evaluating, the speaker’s style and message. You might be asked to critique your classmates as they speak or to complete an evaluation of a public speaker in another setting. That makes the job of the listener extremely important. Providing constructive feedback to speakers often helps the speaker improve her/his speech tremendously.

Message

Another crucial element in the speech process is the message. The message is what the speaker is discussing or the ideas that s/he is presenting to you as s/he covers a particular topic. The important chapter concepts presented by your professor become the message during a lecture. The commands and steps you need to use, the new software at work, are the message of the trainer as s/he presents the information to your department. The message might be lengthy, such as the President’s State of the Union address, or fairly brief, as in a five-minute presentation given in class.

Channel

The channel is the means by which the message is sent or transmitted. Different channels are used to deliver the message, depending on the communication type or context. For instance, in mass communication, the channel utilized might be a television or radio broadcast. The use of a cell phone is an example of a channel that you might use to send a friend a message in interpersonal communication. However, the channel typically used within public speaking is the speaker’s voice, or more specifically, the sound waves used to carry the voice to those listening. You could watch a prerecorded speech or one accessible on YouTube, and you might now say the channel is the television or your computer. This is partially true. However, the speech would still have no value if the speaker’s voice was not present, so in reality, the channel is now a combination of the two -the speaker’s voice broadcast through an electronic source.

Context

The context is a bit more complicated than the other elements we have discussed so far. The context is more than one specific component. For example, when you give a speech in your classroom, the classroom, or the physical location of your speech, is part of the context . That’s probably the easiest part of context to grasp.

But you should also consider that the people in your audience expect you to behave in a certain manner, depending on the physical location or the occasion of the presentation . If you gave a toast at a wedding, the audience wouldn’t be surprised if you told a funny story about the couple or used informal gestures such as a high-five or a slap on the groom’s back. That would be acceptable within the expectations of your audience, given the occasion. However, what if the reason for your speech was the presentation of a eulogy at a loved one’s funeral? Would the audience still find a high-five or humor as acceptable in that setting? Probably not. So the expectations of your audience must be factored into context as well.

The cultural rules -often unwritten and sometimes never formally communicated to us -are also a part of the context. Depending on your culture, you would probably agree that there are some “rules ” typically adhered to by those attending a funeral. In some cultures, mourners wear dark colors and are somber and quiet. In other cultures, grieving out loud or beating one’s chest to show extreme grief is traditional. Therefore, the rules from our culture -no matter what they are -play a part in the context as well.

Interference

Every speaker hopes that her/his speech is clearly understood by the audience. However, there are times when some obstacle gets in the way of the message and interferes with the listener’s ability to hear what’s being said. This is interference , or you might have heard it referred to as “noise. ” Every speaker must prepare and present with the assumption that interference is likely to be present in the speaking environment.

Interference can be mental, physical, or physiological. Mental interference occurs when the listener is not fully focused on what s/he is hearing due to her/his own thoughts. If you’ve ever caught yourself daydreaming in class during a lecture, you’re experiencing mental interference. Your own thoughts are getting in the way of the message.

A second form of interference is physical interference . This is noise in the literal sense -someone coughing behind you during a speech or the sound of a mower outside the classroom window. You may be unable to hear the speaker because of the surrounding environmental noises.

The last form of interference is physiological . This type of interference occurs when your body is responsible for the blocked signals. A deaf person, for example, has the truest form of physiological interference; s/he may have varying degrees of difficulty hearing the message. If you’ve ever been in a room that was too cold or too hot and found yourself not paying attention, you’re experiencing physiological interference. Your bodily discomfort distracts from what is happening around you.

Feedback

The final component within the speech process is feedback. While some might assume that the speaker is the only one who sends a message during a speech, the reality is that the listeners in the audience are sending a message of their own, called feedback Often this is how the speaker knows if s/he is sending an effective message. Occasionally the feedback from listeners comes in verbal form – questions from the audience or an angry response from a listener about a key point presented. However, in general, feedback during a presentation is typically non-verbal -a student nodding her/his head in agreement or a confused look from an audience member. An observant speaker will scan the audience for these forms of feedback, but keep in mind that non-verbal feedback is often more difficult to spot and to decipher. For example, is a yawn a sign of boredom, or is it simply a tired audience member?

Generally, all of the above elements are present during a speech. However, you might wonder what the process would look like if we used a diagram to illustrate it. Initially, some students think of public speaking as a linear process -the speaker sending a message to the listener -a simple, straight line. But if you’ll think about the components we’ve just covered, you begin to see that a straight line cannot adequately represent the process, when we add listener feedback into the process. The listener is sending her/his own message back to the speaker, so perhaps the process might better be represented as circular. Add in some interference and place the example in context, and you have a more complete idea of the speech process.