Department of Communication

 

 

Message Preparation: Preliminary Considerations

Chapter 9
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The follow chapters focus on applying theoretical applications to practical matters of preparing messages and presenting those messages to audiences. We are primarily concerned with the speaker or writer presenting to an audience of many.


Selection of Topic—

Possible circumstances that may give rise to choosing a topic are:

Spontaneous arrival of a topic; arises from a situation rather than from the speaker or audience choosing it.

Audience seeks out the speaker (source) to address a particular group of people. For example, a guest speaker at a club or organization.

The source has an idea; develops it and then seeks out an audience for delivery of that message. Sales people, politicians, etc. are prime examples; thought we are apt to have this need at some time.

Whichever option arises, selecting a topic to speak or write about is usually not a major problem for the source.


Selection of a Purpose—

This refers to the source’s purpose or intent of the message. Basically, it is the goal of the communication.

The first step is to decide on the intent. It might be change an attitude toward an issue or to change the attitude toward the source; the speaker.

The second step is to decide is the concern is on long-term or only the initial response of the audience. But the concern could be (a) with changing the attitude currently held; (b) reinforce the existing attitude; (c) generate an attitude where none previously existed; or (d) possibly the source is only concerned with the audience’s understanding of an issue (information). A truly informative intent can only exist where bias is largely absent. Very hard to do sometimes. Sometimes we consider “enjoyment” to be a fifth category of purpose for a message.

The source (speaker) has to determine is the message is to be concept-centered or ethos-centered; whether to seek long-term or just short-term effects; and what, if any, attitude change or development is wanted.

Such decisions need to be reflected in the speech’s purpose; a thesis statement that captures the essential reason for the speech. All supporting evidence needs to exist to development the thesis. Adding information not relative to the purpose will only serve to confuse an audience and weaker chances for success.


General Audience Analysis—

Rhetorical communication must be audience-centered; to be delivered for the audience; to serve their needs. Therefore, it is critical that the source conduct a thorough audience analysis of the audience before putting together the message. We need to look for distinctive characteristics of a particular audience. Some of them are easily determined merely by looking at the people while others are very hard, if not impossible, not know. Some of the obvious characteristics are:

Gender of the audience. It is likely that gender is irrelevant to the topic but if it is, then careful consideration needs to be given to gender.

Age of the audience. In general, younger audiences tend to be more open to change in persuasive efforts. Older people are less susceptible to persuasion; have more respect for tradition; are often less impetuous; less given to emotion; less idealistic; more pragmatic; more cynical; and more suspicious.

Political attitude of the audience. Consider their values and how their reactions will be to issues they favor and vice versa.

Religion of the audience. Same comment as noted in political attitudes.

Geographic region of the audience. People from different regions are motivated by different needs and they must be respected.

Socioeconomic status of audience. Income and level in society are factors that influence an audience’s interest in and attitude toward certain issues.


The main concern with audience analysis is trying to assess the audience’s expectations of us as a communicator; what motives the audience will likely possess; their major, relevant attitudes toward issues; and what this audience will likely accept as a credible source(s).


Additional external or situational factors in this process include: where, when, and under what circumstances the event will take place. Will it be in a large hall? Or a small room? On a holiday, a weekday, a weekend? What time of day or week? All of these external factors can play a major role on the likelihood of acceptance or rejection of a communicator’s message.


Channels and Forms for Presentation of Messages—

Before a message can be encoded you have to decide how it will be delivered or transmitting to the audience. Written or oral choices are the options. And whenever possible the source should transmit the message through an oral-visual channel. And when we can limit the group size we are more likely to achieve success; with the best size being one-on-one. It is rare that the source has control over the size of the audience, however. Success can certainly be achieved when the audience is larger; far beyond one-on-one, but it’s easy when smaller. We are most concerned with a source-to-group audience since that is the most common audience in rhetorical situations.


There are four delivery modes to choose from; each with its strengths and weaknesses. They are impromptu, extemporaneous, manuscript and memorized.

Impromptu (+) = spontaneous and natural style (-) = lack of preparation leads to poor organization and support of ideas; reduces chances of success.

Extemporaneous (+) = natural and spontaneous style with effective eye contact.

(-) = lack of precise word control; seldom a serious problem; delivery style of choice.

Manuscript (+) = complete use of style and language options. (-) = suffers from a lack of spontaneity without extensive practice and eye contact often suffers.

Memorized (+) = direct and strong eye contact and language choices can be strong as well. (-) = easily distracted and very hard to adapt to audience feedback.

Bottom line: the extemporaneous method should be used in all rhetorical settings except for when word choice is of paramount importance.


Selection of Source Presentation—

Rhetorical communication requires that thought be made as to whom the source should be for transmitting the message to the audience. Usually it is the person who generates the idea and develops the message. Nonetheless, it is important to consider these factors as well: the source’s gender, how well the source will or will not identify with the audience, and the sources’ ability to deliver a message. Some audiences will respond better to women or to men; depending on their beliefs and attitudes. And the same is true for identification. There are some people we can better relate to, regardless of overall qualifications. Finally, one’s ability to deliver a speech is critical as well. It’s not secret that we are not all created equal when it comes to delivery.


Perception of the Possible—

A common weakness in rhetorical communication is expecting too much, too soon (the Great Expectation Fallacy) and then labeling the effort a failure because results were not achieved. Every source must fairly evaluate what is and what is not achievable with a given audience. “Attempting to achieve more than possible often causes the source to achieve far less than possible.” You don’t have to change or compromise your values; just be realistic about what you can do with this particular audience.

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