Understanding the basic components of communication can help you become a better communicator. Aristotle outlined the basic model of communication in 336 B.C. Whereas Aristotle viewed rhetoric as an art, we tend to see it now more as an experience. The three basic components are not separate and distinct entities. They are tied together. Communication is an experience between speaker and listener.
The first component: The Message
The speaker shares the message. Messages are not limited to words that are spoken. They are conveyed by facial expression, gestures, physical appearance, and tone of voice. In fact, much of a message is communicated at the nonverbal level.
Even when words are used, they don’t always convey a message. One of the basic principles of semantics is that the word is not the thing, the word is only a symbol for the thing. The common urban legend says that the indigenous people of the north have many words for snow, while in English we only have one. That fact is, just as in the languages of the North, English has several words for snow: blizzard, flurry, drift, snowflake, etc.
However, as this well-known Bill Clinton quote from January 1998 illustrates, verbal messages become more complex when the precise words used take on a value of their own.
“Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech, and I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people. Thank you.“
The second component: The Speaker
As if the words were not sufficiently complex, the speaker adds another dimension of complexity to the message. The speaker also conveys a message with tone of voice, appearance, and gestures. This secondary message includes all the nonverbal communication a speaker employs to emphasize or augment the verbal message. The speaker may dress in a certain way to project a specific image, may smile to project friendliness, may raise his or her voice to gain attention.
However, the messages speakers intend to convey can be affected by secondary messages which they did not intend and may be unaware of. They may have mannerisms that affect the audience’s interpretation of what is said. The above example from Clinton is sometimes referred to as Clinton’s “finger wagging” quote because of the style in which the President delivered the statement. The tone and speed of his voice is often imitated.
A speaker’s physical characteristics can influence their messages. One only has to look at the recent selection of a Democrat contender for the American Presidency to see how the issues of gender and race played into the many messages in each campaign.
The third component: The Audience
The same message, delivered by the same speaker, will not necessarily be received the same way by different audiences or even different listeners in the same audience. The audience background, attitudes, and beliefs affect the message they hear.
An audience may have strong religious or political convictions that provide them with a completely different frame of reference. Even such subtle factors as the time of day and the atmosphere of the occasion will have an effect. A tired audience may be impatient with jokes, whereas an audience in a frivolous mood may see almost anything as funny.
If you want your message to be as clear as possible when delivered, each of these components need to be taken into consideration.
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