The Public Speaking System, Part 5: Channel

This past week in my communication course, I asked my college students, “What is the appropriate channel for breaking up with someone?” The channel, or medium, is the method by which we send a message. These were a few of their responses:

“Face-to-face. Only face-to-face.”

“If you break up with someone via text, you are a coward.”

“It’s disrespectful not to break up with someone in person.”

“If you are in a long-distance relationship, it’s probably okay to FaceTime, but only if you can’t meet face-to-face.”

They were right. Society has certain unwritten rules about the channels we use to send messages. You’ve probably heard the phrase “the medium is the message” coined by Marshall McLuhan. What McLuhan tapped into was the fact that communication works together as an interdependent system.

We’ve been talking about the 6 parts of the public speaking system (context, people, message, symbols, channel, and perceptions) in the last few posts. The example of breaking up with someone dramatically highlights the relationship of the parts. For example, if you break up with someone over text, you aren’t just saying, “I’m breaking up with you.” You are saying, “I’m breaking up with you and ______________.” And the message gets changed. Even though you don’t actually say I’m too scared, too lazy, too unempathetic, or too far away to do it in person, any of those meanings could now be present because of the channel chosen to send the message.

But how can we use different channels when presenting?

A speech is a channel. It’s a face-to-face meeting between communicators. But don’t rely on this one channel to do all the work. The average adult attention span is now just 5 minutes. The way to combat short attention spans is to introduce variety into your presentations. When you use different channels, you can more effectively engage your audience and communicate your message.

Sarah Michel, the VP of Professional Connexity at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, says audience engagement happens when “there is an intentional focus on moving the audience member from spectator to participant by creating opportunities for connection . . . We are in an experience economy and today’s premium attendee expects to co-participate and engage with the speaker/facilitator/guide to make the learning relevant and sticky.”

The use of multiple channels can help do just that. For example, if you need to demonstrate something but you think it might be difficult or too time-consuming in real time, consider creating a video that shows the demonstration in a more controlled environment. If you need to show employees a new building, think about using technology to take them on a 3D tour instead of just talking about it or clicking through a slideshow of pictures. Consider incorporating music or having audience members respond to a question via their phones. Yes, you are giving a presentation, but that doesn’t mean you only have to use one channel to send your message.

Want to add powerful visuals to your presentation, but not sure where to start? Check out the award-winning presentation design services of Ethos3. And if you are ready to take your presentation skills to the next level, register now for our online presentation skills course at

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