• Unit 1: The Elements of Communication

    We begin by exploring several components of communication and the factors that set oral presentations apart from other forms of content delivery. Understanding how these elements work together will paint a picture of what happens when we give a presentation.

    Scholars think about our communications as processes where senders and receivers interact. We exchange messages with each other simultaneously, and participants constantly adapt their message based on their interpretations of contextual stimuli. In other words, we communicate with other people at the same time that they communicate with us, and we modify what we say and do based on what we see or hear from others.

    In this unit, we apply this one-to-one person communication model to public contexts. The interaction happens simultaneously, and the setting of a presentation will determine how each participant reacts.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 1 hour.

    • 1.1: Presenting to an Audience

      Before we get started, we discuss the importance of presenting to an audience.

    • 1.2: The Communication Model

      Scholars have created several communication models, but most agree on the following elements:

      • Sender/Receiver: In every communication, two or more people send and receive messages simultaneously. Even those who do not speak communicate through nonverbal responses, such as eye contact, body language, and interjections.

      • Message: When we communicate, we convey a message to another person. The message is the verbal and nonverbal information exchanged between people who interact.

      • Encoding/Decoding: We use communication techniques to translate our thoughts into verbal language, gestures, or facial expressions. When we put these symbols together, they form a message. Encoding refers to how we translate the thoughts in our head into the symbols we send to another person. Decoding is the process the recipient uses to translate and understand those symbols.

      • Interference: Most communication is messy – several factors can cause our messages to get lost or confused. Scholars call anything that prevents us from successfully sending or receiving a message noise or interference. Three categories of interference are external, internal, and physiological. External interference refers to things that prevent us from hearing another person speak, such as a crowd or a crying baby. Internal interference also confuses how we receive messages, like problems we might be contemplating, something we are trying to remember, or recent arguments that are still on our mind. Physiological interference includes things like hunger, physical exhaustion, illness, or having an aching back.

      • Communication Context: Communication never occurs in a vacuum. We approach every situation with our preconceptions, thoughts, and unique relationships. Scholars say "meanings are in people" to explain how meaning refers to what the listener hears, not the words the speaker spoke or what they intended to say. Conversations also occur in different places, and conditions like the time of day or other aspects of the environment can affect how we approach or decode a message or interaction.

      Four elements describe the communication context that affects our interactions:

      1. Temporal – the time of day, season, or year;
      2. Physical – what is happening around us;
      3. Social – the relationship we have with the other person; and
      4. Psychological – what we are thinking.

    • 1.3: Feedback

      Most people think it is rude to talk while someone else is speaking, especially during a public presentation unless the presenter encourages audience participation or interaction. Regardless, most of us give some feedback during a presentation. We send nonverbal messages or cues to the presenter: we express confusion when lost, smile or laugh when amused or engaged, and yawn when bored. Effective presenters pay close attention to these verbal and nonverbal cues and respond accordingly.

      For example, effective educators monitor their students to see if their lecture is getting too wordy or if students lose focus by offering blank stares, closing their eyes, or looking at their phones. These teachers will switch tactics to re-engage their students. They may move to give a different visual perspective, call on students for feedback, or shorten the lecture to help retain focus on the central message.

    • 1.4: Context and Interference

      Presenters should consider their audience's experiences and elements that could influence how the audience interprets their message. Does your presentation precede lunch or follow another dynamic and engaging presentation? Is your audience familiar with your topic and interested in your message, or do you need to persuade them to change their opinion? Outside factors influence how well you can deliver your message.