The Public Speaking System, Part 1: Context

A speech is not just an isolated event, it is part of a whole interdependent system. That means when one part of the system changes, the other parts change correspondingly. To understand the way a system works, think of your car. You know that putting the key in the ignition and turning it will create changes. The engine will start. If you turn the steering wheel, the car wheels will make corresponding changes. If you don’t fill up the tank with gas, your car will stop working. Many different parts of a vehicle work together to keep things running smoothly.

The public speaking system works similarly. It is made of up of 6 parts: context, people, message, symbols, channel, and perceptions. When you know what the parts are and how they function together, you can create better presentations. This 6-part blog series will help you get a picture of the overall public speaking system. The first thing we’ll cover is context. This could also be called the situation, occasion, or event. The context is made up of two parts that explore where and why people are gathered.

Physical Environment: Where

When you climb into a friend’s car, it tells you a lot about his or her personality. Is it cluttered or littered with wrappers? Or is it meticulously clean and you are afraid to scratch or spill something? Space and environment communicate. They become part of the message. Dr. Jay Brand covers multiple studies which seek to understand the relationship between physical space and social interaction. Studies prove time and again that “the physical environment can interfere with the frequency and quality of social interaction.”

When you are preparing to speak, it will benefit you to know all you can about the environment in which you’ll be speaking. If at all possible, spend some time in the space to understand what it is “saying.” Get a feel for how much room you have to move, how far you’ll be from your audience, whether there is a lectern or a microphone. Also, see if you can control the lighting and the temperature. If you are speaking in a room that is warm, and you have no control over the temperature, it will be harder to keep your audience engaged. You might have to plan for more frequent breaks, or more audience interaction to keep them interested and focused given the warmth of the room. Likewise, consider the time you’ll be speaking at and how that affects the audience. Gather all the information you possibly can and take it into consideration as you prepare your presentation.

Purpose: Why

Businesses haves shifted from asking “what” and “how” to asking “why.” In fact, companies who are purpose-driven see 73% of their employees fully engaged, as compared to 23% percent of employees in companies where the purpose is not clearly defined. It’s safe to assume this trend translates to public speaking. If you can articulate the purpose clearly to your audience, they will naturally be more engaged.

Knowing the purpose of the event can also tell you a lot about the expectations of your audience. Have they elected to hear you speak, or are they required to attend the event at which you are speaking? There’s a difference between a captive audience and a captive audience. Make sure you know why the event is being held, what the history of the event is, and how your message fits into the overall purpose of why people are gathered. The question of why people are gathered is foundational for understanding how the other parts of the public speaking system work together. Just as a car functions to get you from point A to point B, the purpose of the presentation functions to help you, the speaker, determine how to get from point A to point B, as well.

Context is the first part of this intricate and fascinating system of communication. We don’t put someone behind the wheel of a car without educating them on how the system works. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to stand up to give a presentation without knowledge of how the public speaking system works. We want you to be comfortable in the “driver’s seat” when you speak.

While we can give you some helpful knowledge in our blog, it’s nowhere near the depth or individualized attention we can give you when you register for our all-new, online presentation skills course. In our course, you’ll learn proven methods used by the best in the world. Check it out now.

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