The Public Speaking System, Part 3: The Message

Cogs have always fascinated me. Each one has its own intricate design, spoked and strong. Alone, a cog can move only what it touches. But when multiple cogs are interlocked, they work together to span greater distances and cover greater territory. We are in part 3 of a 6-part series about the system of public speaking. This system is made up of 6 cogs: context, people, message, symbols, channel, and perceptions. Each of these parts moves in correlation with the others.

Today, we are zooming in on the cog we call the message. It's the part we usually think of first because it's the actual speech. These three steps will help you master the message.

Know Your Purpose

Most presentations fall into one of the following three general purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. While those lines can get blurry, a primary purpose can usually be identified. When you know what your purpose is, you can start to draft an appropriate message. But not until then. You’ve probably heard the tip, “begin with the end in mind” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He says that this means we should “begin each project with a clear vision of [our] desired direction and destination.” He adds,People are working harder than ever, but because they lack clarity and vision, they aren't getting very far.” When we begin crafting our message, we have to do so with a clear sense of the purpose of that message.

Examine the Relationships

When you isolate any of the cogs in the public speaking system, you don’t get a full picture of what’s happening. But when you look at the interdependent parts, you have a great starting place for writing your presentation. Consider the relationships between the cogs.

  • Context: How should my message change based on the context in which I’m speaking?
  • People: Who is my audience and how can I craft my message specifically for them?
  • Symbols: What symbols can I use in my message to meet the needs of this communication system?
  • Channel: What channel or medium will be most effective to get this particular message across?
  • Perceptions: What other perceptions might people have about my message, especially ones that differ from mine?

Simplify the Take Away

For a message to be clear, the take away needs to be simple. Following your presentation, any audience member should be able to easily state in a sentence or two what your message was. In order to achieve this kind of clarity, you’ll need to spend some time near the end of your presentation boiling it all down and telling the audience what you want them to “take away” from your presentation. Think about how commercials nearly always conclude with the company slogan. To come up with a simple take away, we can look to recently emerging slogan research which shows that “out of 14 possible characteristics of slogans, only three count when trying to determine likability—creativity of phrasing, clarity of message, and inclusion of a benefit.” Aim to develop a simple but creative phrase that sums up  your message while also reminding the audience why it is beneficial for them.  

If you follow these three simple tips, you’ll be drafting a great presentation in no time. And you'll make sure the message cog is functioning perfectly in sync with the rest of the public speaking system. 

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