Elements of Speech Communication

Speaker

The speaker is one of the key elements of the basic speech communication model.

Learning Objectives

Define the speaker in the basic speech communication model

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Speech communication, in its simplest form, consists of a sender, a message and a recipient. The speaker and sender are synonymous.
  • The speaker is the initiator of communication.
  • Effective speakers are those who can most clearly delivery their message to their recipients.

Key Terms

  • sender: someone who encodes and sends a message to a receiver through a particular channel; the initiator of communication.

Elements of Speech Communication: The Speaker

— Example image of a speaker

A picture of President Barack Obama giving a speech in Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009.

The Speaker: President Barack Obama giving a speech in Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009.

The communication cycle offers a model for communication. In its simplest form, the cycle consists of a sender, a message, and a recipient. Other models include the channel, which is the vehicle in which your message travels. For the purposes of speech communication, the speaker is you!

The speaker is perhaps the second most important factor in the speech communication model, second only to the message (your speech) itself. Let’s take a step back and look at a very specific definition of the message speaker, or sender:

A sender is someone who encodes and sends a message to a receiver through a particular channel. The sender is the initiator of communication.

When you think about how you craft your speech, you’re actually encoding your message. This doesn’t mean that your speech is laced with cryptic clues for your audience to determine the meaning and purpose, rather, it gives you a way to think about your speech in a new light. Your message’s recipient, the audience, will have to decode your message. With their brainpower, experience and intellect, they need to make sense of the very message you’re trying to deliver. This is why it’s so valuable to understand the importance of your role as speaker, as the initiator of communication in the delivery of your message.

When you are able to successfully communicate your message, that is, when the audience can decode your message, then you have become a successful communicator.

Message

The message is the most important and instrinsic element of all speech communication models.

Learning Objectives

Define the message of the basic speech communication model

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • With regard to public speaking, your speech is your message.
  • Your audience, the receiver, may send you a message in response to your message in the form of feedback.
  • Messages consist of both verbal and non-verbal elements. Your words and how you deliver them equally make up the balance of your message.

Key Terms

  • message: A communication, or what is communicated; any concept or information conveyed.

Elements of Speech Communication: The Message

A picture of many words scrambled together to illustrate the need to refine and focus the message of a speech.

The Message: What is the message that you’re trying to get across to your audience?

No matter which model of communication you study, every model includes the most important element of all: the message. You can’t have communication without a message. The word “message” actually comes from the Latin mittere, “to send. ” The message is fundamental to communication.

With regard to public speaking and speech communication, your speech is your message. But you may have other intentions for your speech as well: the message behind the message. Perhaps you have a singular goal, point or emotion you want your audience to feel and understand. Every single word that you use to craft your speech then, works to achieve that singular goal, point or emotion.

As the sender, the speech writer and speech giver, you may also be getting messages back from your receivers: your audience. This is what’s known as feedback, when the receiver sends a message of response back to the sender. In this way, messaging becomes a dynamic conversation of feedback as the sender sends his or her message to his or her audience, receives feedback from the audience, and then adjusts the message accordingly based on said feedback.

Messages can be sent both verbally and non-verbally. You can say one thing with your words, but depending on how you say it and the non-verbal cues such as posture and eye contact, you may send an entirely different message to your audience. That said, it’s important to consider all aspects of your overall message, from verbal to non-verbal to the meaning and message behind the message, when crafting your speech.

Channel

The channel is the method (auditory and visual) that is used to transmit the message to the receiver.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of auditory and visual channels used in public speaking

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In a face-to-face setting, the channel will be primarily audio and visual; in a speaking situation with remote audience via videoconferencing, the channel will be computer mediated audio and visual.
  • When the speaker and the audience are in the same room at the same time, the channels of communication are synchronous.
  • When listeners receive the speech at some time after the speech was delivered, the channels are asynchronous (that is, in delayed time).

Key Terms

  • mediated: Acting or brought about through an intervening agency.
  • channel: The method a sender uses to send a message to a receiver. The most common channels humans use are audtiory and visual.
  • co-located: To locate or be located at the same site, for two things or groups at same space.

Elements of Speech Communication: The Channel

A basic speech communication model includes a sender (that is, a speaker), a message, a receiver (that is, an audience), and a channel. Claude Shannon, who developed one of the earlier communication models, defined the channel as the medium used to transmit the signal from the transmitter to the receiver. In a face-to-face, in-person speaking situation, the channel will be primarily audio using sound and visual using light waves; in a speaking situation with a remote audience via videoconferencing, the channel will be computer mediated audio and visual.

An illustration of a speaker and a small audience that shows the communication channel model. The speaker (source) delivers (channel) the speech (message) to the audience and receives feedback.

Communication Channel Model: The speaker uses the channel, or speech, to transmit the message to the audience.

Face-to-Face, Co-Located Audience Channel

When speaking to an audience in person, a speaker uses both verbal and non-verbal methods to communicate the message. The sounds that a speaker makes are interpreted as words. The sounds are transmitted through an audio (or auditory) channel as sound waves and are received by the listeners in the audience. Speakers also use their hands to make gestures, change their facial expressions, and project images or words on a screen. These cues are received by the listeners through the visual part of the channel: their sense of sight. When the speaker and the audience are in the same room at the same time, the channels of communication are synchronous, in real time.

Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) Channel

Speakers also use communication channels that are mediated, meaning there is something between the speaker and the receivers. In some cases, the auditory and visual signal is mediated by a computer to convert what the speaker says and does into a digital signal that is transmitted to remote audiences. Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) is able to overcome physical and social limitations of other forms of communication, and therefore allow the interaction of people who are not physically sharing the same space. Computer mediated digital channels may be synchronous, when remote audiences are listening to the speech via computer conferencing or streaming audio and video at the same time the speech is being delivered. The channel might also be asynchronous, when audiences listen to the speech at some time after the speech was delivered, perhaps via a website like youtube.com or vimeo.com. The message delivered through CMC channels could be only audio, but is likely to involve both audio and video, which uses the auditory and visual senses of the humans to decode the digital signals and process the message.

image

Shannon Weaver Communication Model: The channel in the middle links the speaker with the receiver of the message.

Audience

Your audience represents one very important third in the basic model of communication.

Learning Objectives

Analyze your audience based on demographics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • “Who is my audience ? ” is the first question you should ask yourself before you begin crafting your speech.
  • Your audience may share commonalities and characteristics known as demographics. You should never stereotype or generalize your audience by their demographics, but you can use them to inform the language, context, and delivery of your speech.
  • Audience demographics to consider include age, culture, race, gender, education, occupation, values, and morals.

Key Terms

  • audience: A group of people within hearing; specifically a group of people listening to a performance, speech etc.; the crowd seeing a stage performance.
  • demographic: A demographic criterion: a characteristic used to classify people for statistical purposes, such as age, race, or gender.

Elements of Speech Communication: The Audience

A picture of an audience engaging during a presentation.

Audience: The audience is the most important part in the model of communication.

At its simplest, communication consists of a speaker, a message, and a receiver. Following this model, your speech represents the message. Naturally, this makes you the speaker. To whom you speak then, represents the receiver: in this case, your audience. When looking at this most basic model of communication, your audience represents one-third of the communication equation, proving it is one of the three most important elements to consider as you craft your speech.

Elements to Consider About Your Audience

Your audience may be represented by a variety of distinguishing characteristics and commonalities, often referred to as demographics. It is important to remember that you should not stereotype or make assumptions about your audience based on their demographics; however, you can use these elements to inform the language, context, and delivery of your speech. The first question you should ask yourself, before you begin crafting your speech, is this: “Who is my audience?”

As you begin to answer this question for yourself, here are some key elements to consider as you begin to outline and define your audience:

  • Age: What age ranges will be in your audience? What is the age gap between you and your audience members? Age can inform what degree of historical and social context they bring to your speech as well as what knowledge base they have as a foundation for understanding information.
  • Culture/Race: While these are two separate demographics, one informs the other and vice versa. Race and culture can influence everything from colloquialisms to which hand gestures may or may not be appropriate as you deliver your speech.
  • Gender: Is your audience mostly women? Men? A mix of the two? It is important to consider your gender and your audience, as the gender dynamic between you and your audience can impact the ways in which your speech may be received.
  • Occupation/Education: Just as age, culture, race, and gender factor into your audience’s ability to relate to you as speaker, so may occupation and education. These elements also help to give you an understanding of just how much your audience already may or may not know about your given subject.
  • Values and Morals: While these may not be readily apparent, they can factor prominently into your ability to be likable to your audience. Particularly if you are dealing with controversial material, your audience may already be making judgments about you based on your values and morals as revealed in your speech and thus impacting the ways in which they receive your message.

Feedback: Visual and Verbal Cues

Your audience can provide you with immediate feedback; pay attention to the visual and verbal cues they give you in the moment.

Learning Objectives

Define feedback and describe how you can receive audience feedback in the moment

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An advanced model of communication includes a sender, a message, a receiver, a channel and feedback. Feedback represents a message of response sent by the receiver back to the sender.
  • Feedback happens in realtime as your audience provides you with visual and verbal cues in response to your speech.
  • If feedback indicates that your message hasn’t been received as intended, you may need to correct course in the moment to make that connection with your audience.

Key Terms

  • feedback: The receivers’ verbal and nonverbal responses to a message, such as a nod for understanding (nonverbal), a raised eyebrow for being confused (nonverbal), or asking a question to clarify the message (verbal).

Elements of Speech Communication: Feedback

A picture of an audience smiling.

Feedback: You audience might give you visual, non-verbal cues that signal how they might be receiving your message.

The simplest model of communication relies on three distinct parts: sender, message and receiver. More complex models throw in a fourth element: the channel via which the message is sent. The most advanced communication models include a fifth element: feedback, that is, a return message sent from the receiver back to the sender. Feedback could be as formal as handing out a presentation evaluation following your speech or presentation. Typically though, you can gauge feedback as your speech is happening by paying very close attention to the visual and verbal cues your audience may be giving you while you speak.

Verbal and Visual Cues

Verbal and visual cues refer to those sounds and reactions you may hear and see made by your audience. If you tell a joke or a funny anecdote, you expect laughter as your feedback. One good way to tell if your joke bombed–no laughter. And, as awkward as it can be in the moment, you get that instant feedback on how you may need to correct course and potentially deviate from your scripted approach in order to make that connection with your audience.

Visual cues can also include making eye contact. As you scan the room, are people returning your gaze? If so, you have an engaged audience, attentively listening to your speech. If you see half-closed or closed eyes, try adjusting your tone and volume: you just might need to wake your audience up a little bit.

And of course, depending on your speech topic, the lack of a smile or a chuckle doesn’t mean your audience is connecting to your words. Tears can indicate that your words have an incredibly powerful effect on your audience if you’re talking about a particularly moving or emotional subject.

The key takeaway is to remember that this feedback loop of immediate audience reaction plays out in real time as you speak, so it’s up to you to be observant and think two to three steps ahead if you need to correct course based on your audience’s feedback.

Noise and Interference

Noise and interference can block your audience’s ability to receive your message.

Learning Objectives

Identify methods to cut down on internal and external noise and interference

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Noise exists in all aspects of communication, thus, no message is received exactly as the sender intends (despite his or her best efforts) because of the ever-presence of noise in communication.
  • Noise can be both external and internal. External noise often relates to your physical environment, such as a noisy room, as well as your physiological state. Internal noise includes psychological and semantic noise, and is how you prevent yourself from effectively delivering your message.
  • To combat external noise, speak louder or see if you can be amplified in some way. Alternatively, see if the source of the noise can be stopped or lowered.
  • To triumph over internal noise, take a few deep breaths before speaking. Breathe out all of the negative self-doubt and anxieties you may have about speaking. Inhale confidence. You can do this!

Key Terms

  • noise: Various sounds, usually unwanted.

Elements of Speech Communication: Noise & Interference

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Noise: Noise and interference can distort the meaning and delivery of your message.

What Are Noise and Interference?

Typically, you know it when you hear it. Noise may be jarring and unpleasant and is usually an interruption or distraction when it occurs. Noise and interference block the sending or receiving of a message. When it comes to public speaking, noise and interference can be a major issue for both you as message sending and for your audience as your message receivers.

Quite simply, noise jams the signal you’re trying to send as you speak.

Noise and interference can be both external or internal. It could be your microphone feeding back through a speaker, causing that ear-splitting high pitch squeal. You could be trying to talk over an auditorium full of chatty high schoolers. Or you could be giving a speech outdoors on a windy day and you’re barely able to shout over the sound of the wind.

Internal noise and interference can be particularly challenging, since this often refers to the internal monologue you might be telling yourself before you get up on stage to speak: “I’m not good enough. I’m going to forget my speech. They’re going to boo me. ” Internal noise can be psychological and semantic in nature, whereas external noise can be known as or include physical and physiological noise. Often, internal noise and interference are the result of anxiety, nervousness, or stress.

Whether internal or external, unless you’re giving your speech in a vacuum, noise is unavoidable. Noise exists at all levels of communication and thus, no message is received exactly as the sender intends (despite his or her best efforts) because of the ever-presence of noise in communication.

Learning How to Tune It All Out

With regard to external noise, double check to see if there are any ways to boost your volume. You might need to physically project your voice a little more to be heard over a low din. You might even need to call attention to yourself so that your audience pays attention. And it’s okay to ask your audience before you speak: “Can you hear me in the back? ”

As for internal noise, fear is the enemy. If you’re nervous about speaking, take a few moments before presenting to inhale some nice, deep breaths for a count of four: in through the nose for four, blow it out through the mouth for four. Repeat this until you can feel your heart rate slow down a little and the butterflies in your stomach settle down. You can do this!

Presentation

How you deliver your speech presentation may be just as important as the speech itself.

Learning Objectives

Demonstrate how to appropriately present yourself when giving a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Remember to “dress to impress”–when in doubt, go for business professional. It’s better to be overdressed for a speech or presentation than underdressed.
  • Your verbal communication, in how you phrase and intone your actual words, is vital to building auditory interest for your audience. Try to play with the pitch and tone of your speech; avoid speaking in monotone.
  • From gesture to posture, your non-verbal communication via your body language also adds visual depth and engagement for your audience. Maintain eye contact. Don’t wander around stage or gesticulate too much. Make your audience feel comfortable by being comfortable in front of them.

Key Terms

  • non-verbal communication: Nonverbal communication is usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues between people. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact.

Elements of Speech Communication: The Presentation

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Presentation: How your message comes across is just as important as the message itself.

The delivery of your message may be just as important as the words you speak. There are a number of factors to consider when delivering your speech that can help or hinder your efforts to an effective overall presentation.

Appearance

You may have heard the phrase, “Dress to impress. ” This couldn’t be more true when getting up to deliver a speech. While some speech venues and settings might be more casual, chances are, you should be dressed in business attire. While fashion may change as quickly as the seasons, some basic tips regarding business professional or business formal attire hold true:

For men: A suit is a good staple for any business professional wardrobe. When in doubt as to just how formal or professional, stick with button-down shirts and add the tie (as cumbersome as it might be). If you can swing a blazer or suit coat, do it. If not, the tie is a good business formal backup. Hair should be neat and faces clean-shaven.

For women: What constitutes business casual versus business professional or formal is always changing, but a good rule of thumb is to keep your shoulders covered and skirts knee-length or longer. Dress and pant suits are usually acceptable as well as single-piece dresses. Avoid any plunging necklines. Keep the makeup to only what’s necessary and hair should be neat. If you’re comfortable in tall heels, go for it. Otherwise, choose a pair of shoes in which you are confident you can be sturdy when entering and exiting the stage as well as standing for the duration of your speech.

Verbal Communication: Your Words and Ideas

The actual words that you say certainly influence your presentation. Make sure that you rehearse often so that the words feel comfortable in your mouth as you speak them aloud. Be on the lookout for phrases that might trip you up or leave you tongue-tied. Practice your speech in front of another person or small group of people: ask them if what you’re saying–from the ideas to which you’re trying to get across to your phrasing, tone and style–make sense to them.

Non-Verbal Communication: Your Body Language

Your non-verbal communication is equally as important as the words you have to say. Your body stance and posture and your eye contact (or lack thereof) can be crucial in making yourself relatable to your audience. You’ll want to keep an assertive body posture: stand up straight and maintain eye contact when you can (if you’re not reading from prepared remarks). Be mindful of gesture: don’t overdo it, but don’t stand there rigidly, either. Gesture and movement build visual interest for your audience. If you’re able to get out from behind a podium or lectern, do so.

Situational and Environmental Context

It is important to understand the environmental and situational contexts in which you are giving a speech.

Learning Objectives

Define situational context, environmental context, and situational awareness

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Without context, your audience may not understand your message. Conversely, you might not understand your audience.
  • Situational context refers to the reason why you’re speaking. Think of situational context as the event itself.
  • Environmental context refers to the physical space and time in which you speak. Think of environmental context as the time and venue of the event.
  • The key to understanding your context is to cultivate a habit of situational awareness. It’s not something you’ll learn overnight, but by being keenly aware of your surroundings, you’ll learn to always think one step ahead should context change suddenly when speaking.

Key Terms

  • situational awareness: the perception of environmental elements with respect to time and/or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time, or some other variable, such as a predetermined event.
  • context: the surroundings, circumstances, environment, background, or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of an event or other occurrence.

Elements of Speech Communication: Situational and Environmental Context

A picture of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee.

Environmental and Situational Context: The environmental and situational context in which you give a speech is important.

Just as you consider your audience when crafting your speech, you’ll also want to consider the context in which your speech will be given. While context certainly includes your audience, it also encompasses many other factors that are important for you to consider as you craft your speech.

Consider for a moment when you hear just the tail end of a conversation in passing. It doesn’t always make much sense. What you’re missing, in this instance, is the context of that conversation. Just as you need it to understand the conversation you just missed, both you and your audience need to be on the same page about the context of your speech.

Situational context refers to the actual reason why you are speaking or presenting. If you’re campaigning for office, you might deliver what’s called a “stump speech” – a speech you repeat over and over on the campaign trail that gets at the main talking points and promises of your campaign. If you’re at a funeral, you may be asked to deliver a eulogy. On a lighter note, you might be at your best friend’s wedding and asked to give one of the first toasts.

The manner in which you deliver your speech, from the words you say to how you say them, relies on the situational context. For example, you wouldn’t read a eulogy at a wedding?

Environmental context refers to the physical space in which you’re speaking. Whether you’re in a classroom presenting the findings from a lab report or in a stadium that seats thousands, environmental context can influence both your message and delivery. The audience will connect with you in different ways depending on the environmental context. You may need to work harder to build individual connections with your audience members the larger the audience you have.

The key then, to understanding your context is to develop a habit of situational awareness. Situational awareness refers to one’s perception of their environment and situation around them on a moment by moment basis. In being situationally aware, you can anticipate changes to your environment. In this way, you’re always thinking just one step ahead in any given situation or environment, and can be able to adapt accordingly. Cultivating this skill (and it does take time and a keen awareness of your surroundings) is especially helpful when your context may shift or change in subtle or major ways, or in an instant.

Context of Culture and Gender

Understanding the cultural and gender context of your speech is vital to making a connection with your audience.

Learning Objectives

Define gender and culture in relation to public speaking

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender and culture are societal constructs of sex and (sometimes, but not always) race, respectively.
  • People who identify as one sex (i.e., female) may not necessarily associate with the corresponding gender traits (i.e., feminine). The same is true of race and culture, respectively.
  • Both gender and culture come with their own set of biases: bias that you may have toward differing genders and cultures, and the biases that differing genders and cultures may have towards you.

Key Terms

  • gender: The sociocultural phenomenon of dividing people into the categories of “male” and “female,” with each having associated clothing, roles, stereotypes, etc.
  • culture: The beliefs, values, behavior and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life; the arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.
  • bias: An inclination towards something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection.

Elements of Speech Communication: Cultural and Gender Context

Both culture and gender play key roles not only in how you perceive your audience, but in how your audience perceives you.

Understanding Gender

When we think of gender, we often think of male or female; that’s only half of understanding gender. The denotations of male and female actually refer to biological and physiological sex. Gender is a sociological construct of values, ideals, and behaviors about what it means to be either male or female, and are often regarded in terms of masculine or feminine, respectively. Many people use sex and gender interchangeably, but one does not have to be male to identify as masculine, and vice versa.

Understanding Culture

In the example above, we have both a biological, physical characteristic (sex) with a superimposed cultural construct (gender). The same applies to both race and culture, respectively. Race refers to groups of people who are distinguished by shared physical characteristics, such as skin color and hair type. Culture refers to the customs, habits, and value systems of groups of people. People of the same race may not share the same culture; similarly, a culture isn’t necessarily comprised of people of the same race.

How Gender and Culture Can Impact Public Speaking

When considering both gender and cultural contexts, we often encounter bias, both intentional and unintentional, and implicit or explicit. We may have presumptive judgments or opinions about those cultures and races that differ from our own, which are often the result of our own upbringing. And as much as you might be biased toward or against certain gender and cultural groups, your audience will have just as much bias as you, and in different ways.

As such, it is radically important to know exactly to whom you’re speaking when giving your speech. It’s helpful for you to anticipate not only the biases you might bring to the podium, but those biases of your audience towards you as well.

A picture of a woman sitting in an audience.

Cultural and Gender Context: The speaker’s gender and cultural identity and the audience’s cultural and gender identities invariably influence one another.