One Way Communication Theory Essay

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify and define the components of the transmission model of communication.
  2. Identify and define the components of the interaction model of communication.
  3. Identify and define the components of the transaction model of communication.
  4. Compare and contrast the three models of communication.
  5. Use the transaction model of communication to analyze a recent communication encounter.

Communication is a complex process, and it is difficult to determine where or with whom a communication encounter starts and ends. Models of communication simplify the process by providing a visual representation of the various aspects of a communication encounter. Some models explain communication in more detail than others, but even the most complex model still doesn’t recreate what we experience in even a moment of a communication encounter. Models still serve a valuable purpose for students of communication because they allow us to see specific concepts and steps within the process of communication, define communication, and apply communication concepts. When you become aware of how communication functions, you can think more deliberately through your communication encounters, which can help you better prepare for future communication and learn from your previous communication. The three models of communication we will discuss are the transmission, interaction, and transaction models.

Although these models of communication differ, they contain some common elements. The first two models we will discuss, the transmission model and the interaction model, include the following parts: participants, messages, encoding, decoding, and channels. In communication models, the participants are the senders and/or receivers of messages in a communication encounter. The message is the verbal or nonverbal content being conveyed from sender to receiver. For example, when you say “Hello!” to your friend, you are sending a message of greeting that will be received by your friend.

The internal cognitive process that allows participants to send, receive, and understand messages is the encoding and decoding process. Encoding is the process of turning thoughts into communication. As we will learn later, the level of conscious thought that goes into encoding messages varies. Decoding is the process of turning communication into thoughts. For example, you may realize you’re hungry and encode the following message to send to your roommate: “I’m hungry. Do you want to get pizza tonight?” As your roommate receives the message, he decodes your communication and turns it back into thoughts in order to make meaning out of it. Of course, we don’t just communicate verbally—we have various options, or channels for communication. Encoded messages are sent through a channel, or a sensory route on which a message travels, to the receiver for decoding. While communication can be sent and received using any sensory route (sight, smell, touch, taste, or sound), most communication occurs through visual (sight) and/or auditory (sound) channels. If your roommate has headphones on and is engrossed in a video game, you may need to get his attention by waving your hands before you can ask him about dinner.

Transmission Model of Communication

The transmission model of communication describes communication as a linear, one-way process in which a sender intentionally transmits a message to a receiver (Ellis & McClintock, 1990). This model focuses on the sender and message within a communication encounter. Although the receiver is included in the model, this role is viewed as more of a target or end point rather than part of an ongoing process. We are left to presume that the receiver either successfully receives and understands the message or does not. The scholars who designed this model extended on a linear model proposed by Aristotle centuries before that included a speaker, message, and hearer. They were also influenced by the advent and spread of new communication technologies of the time such as telegraphy and radio, and you can probably see these technical influences within the model (Shannon & Weaver, 1949). Think of how a radio message is sent from a person in the radio studio to you listening in your car. The sender is the radio announcer who encodes a verbal message that is transmitted by a radio tower through electromagnetic waves (the channel) and eventually reaches your (the receiver’s) ears via an antenna and speakers in order to be decoded. The radio announcer doesn’t really know if you receive his or her message or not, but if the equipment is working and the channel is free of static, then there is a good chance that the message was successfully received.

Since this model is sender and message focused, responsibility is put on the sender to help ensure the message is successfully conveyed. This model emphasizes clarity and effectiveness, but it also acknowledges that there are barriers to effective communication. Noise is anything that interferes with a message being sent between participants in a communication encounter. Even if a speaker sends a clear message, noise may interfere with a message being accurately received and decoded. The transmission model of communication accounts for environmental and semantic noise. Environmental noise is any physical noise present in a communication encounter. Other people talking in a crowded diner could interfere with your ability to transmit a message and have it successfully decoded. While environmental noise interferes with the transmission of the message, semantic noise refers to noise that occurs in the encoding and decoding process when participants do not understand a symbol. To use a technical example, FM antennae can’t decode AM radio signals and vice versa. Likewise, most French speakers can’t decode Swedish and vice versa. Semantic noise can also interfere in communication between people speaking the same language because many words have multiple or unfamiliar meanings.

Although the transmission model may seem simple or even underdeveloped to us today, the creation of this model allowed scholars to examine the communication process in new ways, which eventually led to more complex models and theories of communication that we will discuss more later. This model is not quite rich enough to capture dynamic face-to-face interactions, but there are instances in which communication is one-way and linear, especially computer-mediated communication (CMC). As the following “Getting Plugged In” box explains, CMC is integrated into many aspects of our lives now and has opened up new ways of communicating and brought some new challenges. Think of text messaging for example. The transmission model of communication is well suited for describing the act of text messaging since the sender isn’t sure that the meaning was effectively conveyed or that the message was received at all. Noise can also interfere with the transmission of a text. If you use an abbreviation the receiver doesn’t know or the phone autocorrects to something completely different than you meant, then semantic noise has interfered with the message transmission. I enjoy bargain hunting at thrift stores, so I just recently sent a text to a friend asking if she wanted to go thrifting over the weekend. After she replied with “What?!?” I reviewed my text and saw that my “smart” phone had autocorrected thrifting to thrusting! You have likely experienced similar problems with text messaging, and a quick Google search for examples of text messages made funny or embarrassing by the autocorrect feature proves that many others do, too.

“Getting Plugged In”

Computer-Mediated Communication

When the first computers were created around World War II and the first e-mails exchanged in the early 1960s, we took the first steps toward a future filled with computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Thurlow, Lengel, & Tomic, 2004). Those early steps turned into huge strides in the late 1980s and early 1990s when personal computers started becoming regular features in offices, classrooms, and homes. I remember getting our first home computer, a Tandy from Radio Shack, in the early 1990s and then getting our first Internet connection at home in about 1995. I set up my first e-mail account in 1996 and remember how novel and exciting it was to send and receive e-mails. I wasn’t imagining a time when I would get dozens of e-mails a day, much less be able to check them on my cell phone! Many of you reading this book probably can’t remember a time without CMC. If that’s the case, then you’re what some scholars have called “digital natives.” When you take a moment to think about how, over the past twenty years, CMC has changed the way we teach and learn, communicate at work, stay in touch with friends, initiate romantic relationships, search for jobs, manage our money, get our news, and participate in our democracy, it really is amazing to think that all that used to take place without computers. But the increasing use of CMC has also raised some questions and concerns, even among those of you who are digital natives. Almost half of the students in my latest communication research class wanted to do their final research projects on something related to social media. Many of them were interested in studying the effects of CMC on our personal lives and relationships. This desire to study and question CMC may stem from an anxiety that people have about the seeming loss or devaluing of face-to-face (FtF) communication. Aside from concerns about the digital cocoons that many of us find ourselves in, CMC has also raised concerns about privacy, cyberbullying, and lack of civility in online interactions. We will continue to explore many of these issues in the “Getting Plugged In” feature box included in each chapter, but the following questions will help you begin to see the influence that CMC has in your daily communication.

  1. In a typical day, what types of CMC do you use?
  2. What are some ways that CMC reduces stress in your life? What are some ways that CMC increases stress in your life? Overall, do you think CMC adds to or reduces your stress more?
  3. Do you think we, as a society, have less value for FtF communication than we used to? Why or why not?

Figure 1.1 The Transmission Model of Communication

Interaction Model of Communication

The interaction model of communication describes communication as a process in which participants alternate positions as sender and receiver and generate meaning by sending messages and receiving feedback within physical and psychological contexts (Schramm, 1997). Rather than illustrating communication as a linear, one-way process, the interaction model incorporates feedback, which makes communication a more interactive, two-way process. Feedback includes messages sent in response to other messages. For example, your instructor may respond to a point you raise during class discussion or you may point to the sofa when your roommate asks you where the remote control is. The inclusion of a feedback loop also leads to a more complex understanding of the roles of participants in a communication encounter. Rather than having one sender, one message, and one receiver, this model has two sender-receivers who exchange messages. Each participant alternates roles as sender and receiver in order to keep a communication encounter going. Although this seems like a perceptible and deliberate process, we alternate between the roles of sender and receiver very quickly and often without conscious thought.

The interaction model is also less message focused and more interaction focused. While the transmission model focused on how a message was transmitted and whether or not it was received, the interaction model is more concerned with the communication process itself. In fact, this model acknowledges that there are so many messages being sent at one time that many of them may not even be received. Some messages are also unintentionally sent. Therefore, communication isn’t judged effective or ineffective in this model based on whether or not a single message was successfully transmitted and received.

The interaction model takes physical and psychological context into account. Physical context includes the environmental factors in a communication encounter. The size, layout, temperature, and lighting of a space influence our communication. Imagine the different physical contexts in which job interviews take place and how that may affect your communication. I have had job interviews on a sofa in a comfortable office, sitting around a large conference table, and even once in an auditorium where I was positioned on the stage facing about twenty potential colleagues seated in the audience. I’ve also been walked around campus to interview with various people in temperatures below zero degrees. Although I was a little chilly when I got to each separate interview, it wasn’t too difficult to warm up and go on with the interview. During a job interview in Puerto Rico, however, walking around outside wearing a suit in near 90 degree temperatures created a sweating situation that wasn’t pleasant to try to communicate through. Whether it’s the size of the room, the temperature, or other environmental factors, it’s important to consider the role that physical context plays in our communication.

Psychological context includes the mental and emotional factors in a communication encounter. Stress, anxiety, and emotions are just some examples of psychological influences that can affect our communication. I recently found out some troubling news a few hours before a big public presentation. It was challenging to try to communicate because the psychological noise triggered by the stressful news kept intruding into my other thoughts. Seemingly positive psychological states, like experiencing the emotion of love, can also affect communication. During the initial stages of a romantic relationship individuals may be so “love struck” that they don’t see incompatible personality traits or don’t negatively evaluate behaviors they might otherwise find off-putting. Feedback and context help make the interaction model a more useful illustration of the communication process, but the transaction model views communication as a powerful tool that shapes our realities beyond individual communication encounters.

Figure 1.2 The Interaction Model of Communication

Transaction Model of Communication

As the study of communication progressed, models expanded to account for more of the communication process. Many scholars view communication as more than a process that is used to carry on conversations and convey meaning. We don’t send messages like computers, and we don’t neatly alternate between the roles of sender and receiver as an interaction unfolds. We also can’t consciously decide to stop communicating, because communication is more than sending and receiving messages. The transaction model differs from the transmission and interaction models in significant ways, including the conceptualization of communication, the role of sender and receiver, and the role of context (Barnlund, 1970).

To review, each model incorporates a different understanding of what communication is and what communication does. The transmission model views communication as a thing, like an information packet, that is sent from one place to another. From this view, communication is defined as sending and receiving messages. The interaction model views communication as an interaction in which a message is sent and then followed by a reaction (feedback), which is then followed by another reaction, and so on. From this view, communication is defined as producing conversations and interactions within physical and psychological contexts. The transaction model views communication as integrated into our social realities in such a way that it helps us not only understand them but also create and change them.

The transaction model of communication describes communication as a process in which communicators generate social realities within social, relational, and cultural contexts. In this model, we don’t just communicate to exchange messages; we communicate to create relationships, form intercultural alliances, shape our self-concepts, and engage with others in dialogue to create communities. In short, we don’t communicate about our realities; communication helps to construct our realities.

The roles of sender and receiver in the transaction model of communication differ significantly from the other models. Instead of labeling participants as senders and receivers, the people in a communication encounter are referred to as communicators. Unlike the interaction model, which suggests that participants alternate positions as sender and receiver, the transaction model suggests that we are simultaneously senders and receivers. For example, on a first date, as you send verbal messages about your interests and background, your date reacts nonverbally. You don’t wait until you are done sending your verbal message to start receiving and decoding the nonverbal messages of your date. Instead, you are simultaneously sending your verbal message and receiving your date’s nonverbal messages. This is an important addition to the model because it allows us to understand how we are able to adapt our communication—for example, a verbal message—in the middle of sending it based on the communication we are simultaneously receiving from our communication partner.

The transaction model also includes a more complex understanding of context. The interaction model portrays context as physical and psychological influences that enhance or impede communication. While these contexts are important, they focus on message transmission and reception. Since the transaction model of communication views communication as a force that shapes our realities before and after specific interactions occur, it must account for contextual influences outside of a single interaction. To do this, the transaction model considers how social, relational, and cultural contexts frame and influence our communication encounters.

Social context refers to the stated rules or unstated norms that guide communication. As we are socialized into our various communities, we learn rules and implicitly pick up on norms for communicating. Some common rules that influence social contexts include don’t lie to people, don’t interrupt people, don’t pass people in line, greet people when they greet you, thank people when they pay you a compliment, and so on. Parents and teachers often explicitly convey these rules to their children or students. Rules may be stated over and over, and there may be punishment for not following them.

Norms are social conventions that we pick up on through observation, practice, and trial and error. We may not even know we are breaking a social norm until we notice people looking at us strangely or someone corrects or teases us. For example, as a new employee you may over- or underdress for the company’s holiday party because you don’t know the norm for formality. Although there probably isn’t a stated rule about how to dress at the holiday party, you will notice your error without someone having to point it out, and you will likely not deviate from the norm again in order to save yourself any potential embarrassment. Even though breaking social norms doesn’t result in the formal punishment that might be a consequence of breaking a social rule, the social awkwardness we feel when we violate social norms is usually enough to teach us that these norms are powerful even though they aren’t made explicit like rules. Norms even have the power to override social rules in some situations. To go back to the examples of common social rules mentioned before, we may break the rule about not lying if the lie is meant to save someone from feeling hurt. We often interrupt close friends when we’re having an exciting conversation, but we wouldn’t be as likely to interrupt a professor while they are lecturing. Since norms and rules vary among people and cultures, relational and cultural contexts are also included in the transaction model in order to help us understand the multiple contexts that influence our communication.

Relational context includes the previous interpersonal history and type of relationship we have with a person. We communicate differently with someone we just met versus someone we’ve known for a long time. Initial interactions with people tend to be more highly scripted and governed by established norms and rules, but when we have an established relational context, we may be able to bend or break social norms and rules more easily. For example, you would likely follow social norms of politeness and attentiveness and might spend the whole day cleaning the house for the first time you invite your new neighbors to visit. Once the neighbors are in your house, you may also make them the center of your attention during their visit. If you end up becoming friends with your neighbors and establishing a relational context, you might not think as much about having everything cleaned and prepared or even giving them your whole attention during later visits. Since communication norms and rules also vary based on the type of relationship people have, relationship type is also included in relational context. For example, there are certain communication rules and norms that apply to a supervisor-supervisee relationship that don’t apply to a brother-sister relationship and vice versa. Just as social norms and relational history influence how we communicate, so does culture.

Cultural context includes various aspects of identities such as race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and ability. We will learn more about these identities in Chapter 2 “Communication and Perception”, but for now it is important for us to understand that whether we are aware of it or not, we all have multiple cultural identities that influence our communication. Some people, especially those with identities that have been historically marginalized, are regularly aware of how their cultural identities influence their communication and influence how others communicate with them. Conversely, people with identities that are dominant or in the majority may rarely, if ever, think about the role their cultural identities play in their communication.

When cultural context comes to the forefront of a communication encounter, it can be difficult to manage. Since intercultural communication creates uncertainty, it can deter people from communicating across cultures or lead people to view intercultural communication as negative. But if you avoid communicating across cultural identities, you will likely not get more comfortable or competent as a communicator. Difference, as we will learn in Chapter 8 “Culture and Communication”, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, intercultural communication has the potential to enrich various aspects of our lives. In order to communicate well within various cultural contexts, it is important to keep an open mind and avoid making assumptions about others’ cultural identities. While you may be able to identify some aspects of the cultural context within a communication encounter, there may also be cultural influences that you can’t see. A competent communicator shouldn’t assume to know all the cultural contexts a person brings to an encounter, since not all cultural identities are visible. As with the other contexts, it requires skill to adapt to shifting contexts, and the best way to develop these skills is through practice and reflection.

Key Takeaways

  • Communication models are not complex enough to truly capture all that takes place in a communication encounter, but they can help us examine the various steps in the process in order to better understand our communication and the communication of others.
  • The transmission model of communication describes communication as a one-way, linear process in which a sender encodes a message and transmits it through a channel to a receiver who decodes it. The transmission of the message many be disrupted by environmental or semantic noise. This model is usually too simple to capture FtF interactions but can be usefully applied to computer-mediated communication.
  • The interaction model of communication describes communication as a two-way process in which participants alternate positions as sender and receiver and generate meaning by sending and receiving feedback within physical and psychological contexts. This model captures the interactive aspects of communication but still doesn’t account for how communication constructs our realities and is influenced by social and cultural contexts.
  • The transaction model of communication describes communication as a process in which communicators generate social realities within social, relational, and cultural contexts. This model includes participants who are simultaneously senders and receivers and accounts for how communication constructs our realities, relationships, and communities.


  1. Getting integrated: How might knowing the various components of the communication process help you in your academic life, your professional life, and your civic life?
  2. What communication situations does the transmission model best represent? The interaction model? The transaction model?
  3. Use the transaction model of communication to analyze a recent communication encounter you had. Sketch out the communication encounter and make sure to label each part of the model (communicators; message; channel; feedback; and physical, psychological, social, relational, and cultural contexts).

Figure 1.3 The Transaction Model of Communication

Cultural context is influenced by numerous aspects of our identities and is not limited to race or ethnicity.


Barnlund, D. C., “A Transactional Model of Communication,” in Foundations of Communication Theory, eds. Kenneth K. Sereno and C. David Mortensen (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1970), 83–92.

Ellis, R. and Ann McClintock, You Take My Meaning: Theory into Practice in Human Communication (London: Edward Arnold, 1990), 71.

Schramm, W., The Beginnings of Communication Study in America (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997).

Shannon, C. and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1949), 16.

Thurlow, C., Laura Lengel, and Alice Tomic, Computer Mediated Communication: Social Interaction and the Internet (London: Sage, 2004), 14.

This is a derivative of Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Although models of communication provide a useful blueprint to see how the communication process works, they are not complex enough to capture what communication is like as it is experienced.

Chris Searle – Blueprint – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.



Interpersonal communication is the foundation of human interaction. Its importance for innovation and change can hardly be overemphasized. In this section, communication from different viewpoints including listening and speaking is ex.


  • To introduce communication and to demonstrate the importance of communication in a variety of contexts including that of the manager of innovation and change.
  • To evaluate and discuss the characteristics of good communication and how to improve our communication.


Principles of Communication
Oral Communications
Visual Communications
Written Communications


Communication is a two-way process of giving and receiving information through any number of channels.  Whether one is speaking informally to a colleague, addressing a conference or meeting, writing a newsletter article or formal report, the following basic principles apply:
  • Know your audience.
  • Know your purpose.
  • Know your topic.
  • Anticipate objections.
  • Present a rounded picture.
  • Achieve credibility with your audience.
  • Follow through on what you say.
  • Communicate a little at a time.
  • Present information in several ways.
  • Develop a practical, useful way to get feedback.
  • Use multiple communication techniques.
Communication is complex.  When listening to or reading someone else's message, we often filter what's being said through a screen of our own opinions.  One of the major barriers to communication is our own ideas and opinions.

There's an old communications game, telegraph, that's played in a circle.  A message is whispered around from person to person.  What the exercise usually proves is how profoundly the message changes as it passes through the distortion of each person's inner "filter."

Environmental factors

Communication can be influenced by environmental factors that have nothing to do with the content of the message.  Some of these factors are:
  • the nature of the room, how warm it is, smoke, comfort of the chair, etc
  • outside distractions, what is going on in the area.
  • the reputation/credibility of the speaker/writer.
  • the appearance, style or authority of the speaker.
  • listener's education, knowledge of the topic, etc.
  • the language, page layout, design of the message.
People remember:
  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 40% of what they hear and see

Communication with Decision Makers

Innovation and change often depends upon persuading potential users of the benefits of an innovation.

To deal persuasively with decision makers, it is necessary to know and understand their interests and opinions.  The following questions are helpful in organizing technology transfer efforts:

  • Who are the key people to persuade?
  • Who will make the decisions about innovation and change?
  • What are these decision makers' past experiences with innovation and change?
  • What are the decision makers' current attitudes toward innovation and change? Are they neutral, friendly, hostile or apathetic?
  • What is the most appropriate way to approach the decision maker?
  • What are the work styles of the decision makers? Are they highly formal people who want everything in writing and all appointments scheduled in advance? Or are they more flexible, responding favorably to personal telephone calls and informal meetings?
  • What networks or groups is the decision maker a part of?
  • What programs or services will the new innovation improve?
  • What programs or services will the new innovation cause problems with?
  • How will the innovation or change benefit the decision maker?

Principles of Effective Persuasion

Whether making a formal presentation at a meeting or writing a report or fact sheet, the following principles hold.
  • Do not oversell or overstate your case.  Make effective use of understatement.
  • Outline the topic you are trying to cover into two parts.  The first part should give broad background information, while the second part provides a detailed summary.
  • Persuasion depends on clarity and simplicity.  Avoid the use of jargon and buzz words.
  • Be prepared to back up claims or facts immediately.
  • Incorporate major anticipated objections into your program or presentation.
  • Address all relevant aspects of a topic, especially those that may affect the functioning of an organization.
  • Use graphics and audiovisuals appropriately.
  • Consider ways to get meaningful input from people.  Find out what they think about the innovation or change.

Selling New Ideas

Creating Isn't Selling
Often the creators of an innovation feel that convincing others of the idea's value is somehow superfluous to their activities.  To them, conceiving the idea is enough.  This combines with their inner conviction that their idea will "sell itself."  Change agents provide a link between creators of new techniques and users.

Ideas Need Selling
Someone must recognize when an idea is good.  It is important that when an idea is good it is sold to those who can act on it--those who have the power to evaluate and adopt it.  Understanding users is an important activity for any change agent.  People must be convinced that a particular idea or innovation has enough merit to warrant adoption.

Selling Ideas Takes Effort
Selling innovations requires preparation, initiative, patience, and resourcefulness.  It may take more effort than originating the idea.  In an age of technical complexity and information overload, new ideas seldom stand out.  Information on new ideas must be targeted to the appropriate users and relate to their needs and motivations.

Once is Not Enough
A new idea has to be suggested many times before it will "catch on."  Initial failures at promoting a new idea are to be expected, so don't get discouraged if you don't get the results you want the first time.  Some ideas take years to catch on.  However, first exposures are crucial to future prospects.  Do it right the first time

Feedback (Listening)

Getting and giving feedback is one of the most crucial parts of good communication.  Like any other activity, there are specific skills that can enhance feedback.  Listening is a key part of getting feedback:

Listen to the Complete Message.  Be patient.  This is especially important when listening to a topic that provokes strong opinions or radically different points-of-view.  In these situations, it's important not to prejudge the incoming message. Learn not to get too excited about a communication until you are certain of the message.

Work at Listening Skills.  Listening is hard work.  Good listeners demonstrate interest and alertness.  They indicate through their eye contact, posture and facial expression that the occasion and the speaker's efforts are a matter of concern to them.  Most good listeners provide speakers with clear and unambiguous feedback.

Judge the Content, Not the Form of the Message.  Such things as the speaker's mode of dress, quality of voice, delivery mannerisms and physical characteristics are often used as excuses for not listening.  Direct your attention to the message--what is being said--and away from the distracting elements.

Weigh Emotionally Charged Language.  Emotionally charged language often stands in the way of effective listening.  Filter out "red flag" words (like "liberal" and "conservative," for instance) and the emotions they call up.  Specific suggestions for dealing with emotionally charged words include

  • Take time to identify those words that affect you emotionally.
  • Attempt to analyze why the words affect you the way they do.
  • Work at trying to reduce the impact of these words on you.

Eliminate Distractions.  Physical distractions and complications seriously impair listening.  These distractions may take many forms: loud noises, stuffy rooms, overcrowded conditions, uncomfortable temperature, bad lighting, etc.  Good listeners speak up if the room is too warm, too noisy, or too dark.  There are also internal distractions:  worries about deadlines or problems of any type may make listening difficult.  If you're distracted, make an effort to clear your head.  If you can't manage it, arrange to communicate at some other time.

Think Efficiently and Critically.  On the average, we speak at a rate of 100 to 200 words per minute.  However, we think at a much faster rate, anywhere from 400 to 600 words per minute.  What do we do with this excess thinking time while listening to someone speak?  One technique is to apply this spare time to analyzing what is being said.  They critically review the material by asking the following kinds of questions:

  • What is being said to support the speaker's point of view? (Evidence)
  • What assumptions are being made by the speaker and the listener? (Assumptions)
  • How does this information affect me? (Effect)
  • Can this material be organized more efficiently? (Structure)
  • Are there examples that would better illustrate what is being said? (Example)
  • What are the main points of the message? (Summary)

Sending Messages

Messages should be clear and accurate, and sent in a way that encourages retention, not rejection.
  • Use Verbal Feedback Even If Nonverbal Is Positive And Frequent.  Everyone needs reassurance that they are reading nonverbal communication correctly, whether a smile means "You're doing great," "You're doing better than most beginners," or "You'll catch on eventually."
  • Focus Feedback On Behavior Rather Than On Personality.  It's better to comment on specific behavior than to characterize a pattern of behavior.  For example, instead of calling a colleague inefficient, specify your complaint:  "You don't return phone calls; this causes problems both in and outside your office."
  • Focus Feedback On Description Rather Than Judgment.  Description tells what happened.  Judgment evaluates what happened.  For example, in evaluating a report don't say, "This is a lousy report!!"  Instead, try:  "The report doesn't focus on the information that I think needs emphasis," or "This report seems to have a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes."
  • Make Feedback Specific Rather Than General.  If feedback is specific, the receiver knows what activity to continue or change.  When feedback is general, the receiver doesn't know what to do differently.  For example, in an office situation, instead of saying "These folders are not arranged correctly," it's better feedback to say, "These should be arranged chronologically instead of alphabetically."
  • In Giving Feedback, Consider the Needs and Abilities of the Receiver.  Give the amount of information the receiver can use and focus feedback on activities the receiver has control over. It's fruitless to criticize the level of activity, if the decision to grant the necessary monies for materials, personnel or technology is made at a different level.
  • Check to See if the Receiver Heard What You Meant to Say.  If the information is important enough to send, make sure the person understands it.  One way of doing this is to say, "I'm wondering if I said that clearly enough.  What did you understand me to say?" or "This is what I hear you saying.  Is that right?"

Selecting the Best Communication Method

In communicating with decision makers, use the most appropriate communications method.  One way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions.
  • What is the purpose of your message?  Do you plan to tell them something new?  Inform?  Do you plan to change their view?  Persuade?
  • What facts must be presented to achieve your desired effect?
  • What action, if any, do you expect decision makers to take?
  • What general ideas, opinions and conclusions must be stressed?
  • Are you thoroughly familiar with all the important information on the innovation?
  • What resources and constraints affect adoption of the innovation?  How much time is available?  How much money is available
  • Which method, or combination of methods, will work most effectively for this situation?    Personal contact--requires scheduling, time and interpersonal skills.
Telephone contact--requires good verbal skills and an awareness of voice tones as nonverbal communication.
Letter--requires writing skills.
e-mail—informal, needs to be short and to the point, but not get lost in clutter.  May require frequent follow-up.
News release--requires writing skills and cooperation of the media and time.


Speaking to Communicate

Spoken communication occurs in many different settings during the course of successful innovation and change.  These may be divided into three main types:
  • The formal and informal networks in which peers exchange information, such as professional associations, work units, work teams, etc.
  • The activities of change agents, opinion leaders, etc.
  • The contacts established at team meetings, conferences, training courses, etc.
Whether to use oral communication is a decision we all make frequently in the course of a workday.  The change agent must be able to identify those situations in which oral communication is the most appropriate one to use.  Don Kirkpatrick suggests the -following guidelines for making such decisions.

Use Oral Communication When:

  • The receiver is not particularly interested in receiving the message.  Oral communication provides more opportunity for getting and keeping interest and attention.
  • It is important to get feedback.  It's easier to get feedback by observing facial expressions (and other nonverbal behavior) and asking questions.
  • Emotions are high. Oral communication provides more opportunity for both the sender and the receiver to let off steam, cool down, and create a suitable climate for understanding.
  • The receiver is too busy or preoccupied to read. Oral communication provides more opportunity to get attention.
  • The sender wants to persuade or convince.  Oral communication provides more flexibility, opportunity for emphasis, chance to listen, and opportunity to remove resistance and change attitudes.
  • When discussion is needed.  A complicated subject frequently requires discussion to be sure of understanding.
  • When criticism of the receiver is involved.  Oral communication provides more opportunity to accomplish this without arousing resentment.  Also, oral communication is less threatening because it isn't formalized in writing.
  • When the receiver prefers one-to-one contact.

Presentation Styles

There are different styles of making a presentation and different people will use the approach that suits them.

Good Old Boy:  This is usually an experienced person who is the peer of most of the audience. Generally, there is a lot of good information but it may be poorly organized or poorly delivered.

The Entertainer:  This person relies on jokes and stories to get their point across.  Good visual aids could be an important feature of the presentation.  Sometimes there is too much emphasis on satisfying the audience that little information is actually transferred.

The Academic:  This person tends to be very precise and deliberate in presenting information. There is considerable content and it usually is well organized.  Unfortunately. it can also be boring and irrelevant and not relate well to the audience.

The Reader:  This person decides to read his material word for word.  The material is often not especially prepared for an oral presentation and can be overly technical, boring and hard to understand.  All topics are covered and what is said is precise and accurate.

The Snail:  This person is nervous about the presentation and goes into a shell.  Like a snail, this person also moves slowly and the presentation seems to last forever.  What is best?  You have to have a style you are comfortable with.  Ideally, you have the rapport of the good old boy, the organization and content of the academic, the ability to get and maintain interest of the entertainer, and the precision of the reader.  If you do this you will avoid the slow pace of the snail and effectively present information to your listeners.

The Gadgeteer:  This person uses every gimmick and technique in his or her presentation and visual aids.  It can be overdone with the message getting lost among the bells and whistles.

Components of an Effective Oral Report

Introduction Capture the attention of the group right from the start.
  • Give the necessary explanation of the background from which the problem derived.
  • Clearly state and explain the problem.
  • Clearly state your objectives.
  • Indicate the method(s) used to solve the problem.
  • Suggest the order in which you will provide information.
  • Provide sufficient introductory information.
  • Use transitions from one main part to the next and between points of the speech.
  • Use summary statements and restatements.
  • Make the main ideas of the report clearly distinguishable from one another.
  • Have adequate supporting data to substantiate what you say.
  • Avoid using extraneous material.
  • Present supporting data clearly--in terms of the ideas or concepts you are trying to communicate.
  • Were the methods of the investigation clearly presented?
  • Visual Aid Supports
  • Use clear drawings, charts, diagrams or other aids to make explanations vivid and understandable.
  • Make visual aids fit naturally into the presentation.
  • Be completely familiar with each visual used.
  • Don't clutter your report with too many visual aids.
Conclude your report with finality in terms of one or more of the following:
  • the conclusions reached
  • the problem solved
  • the results obtained
  • the value of such findings to the county
  • recommendations offered
Question Period
  • Give evidence of intelligent listening in interpreting the questions.
  • Organize answers in terms of a summary statement, explanation, and supporting example.
  • Show flexibility in adapting or improvising visual aids in answering questions.
  • Be natural, "communicative" in your delivery.
  • Use frequent eye contact to maintain rapport with the audience.
  • Vary your delivery with appropriate movements and gestures.
  • Speak distinctly.
  • Display confidence and authority.
  • Express enthusiasm for your ideas.


There's an old saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words."  Life would indeed be difficult without paintings, photographs, diagrams, charts, drawings, and graphic symbols.  These are some of the reasons why SHOWING is such an important form of communication.
  • Most people understand things better when they have seen how they work.
  • Involved, complex ideas can be presented clearly and quickly using visual aids.
  • People retain information longer when it is presented to them visually.
  • Visuals can be used to communicate to a wide range of people with differing backgrounds.
  • Visuals are useful when trying to condense information into a short time period.
Visual aids--used imaginatively and appropriately--will help your audience remember more. Consider the following:
  • People think in terms of images, not words, so visuals help them retain and recall technical information.
  • Visuals attract and hold the attention of observers.
  • Visuals simplify technical information.
  • Visuals may be useful in presenting technical information to a nontechnical audience.

Questions to Ask about Visual Aids:

  • Is my objective clear?
  • What are my key points?  Do they deserve the emphasis that a visual aid gives?
  • What visual aid or aids have I planned to use?
  • Will the visual aid clarify my spoken words?  Will it support my spoken words rather than replace them?
  • Is each visual aid simple, orderly and consistent?  Is it free from incompatible and complicating ideas, symbols, art techniques and typefaces?  Can my audience quickly and easily grasp what they see or must it be read to them?  Avoid making it a reading session.
  • Is it symbolic or pictorial?  Which treatment is best for my subject?  Which treatment is best from the standpoint of my audience?
  • Is my visual direct and to the point?  Is the art functional or ornate?  Is it really one visual aid or several?  If my subject is complex, will it be presented in easily comprehensible units? (Drop-ons or overlays)  Was my artwork designed just for this presentation?
  • Is my visual aid realistic?  Does it give all the pertinent facts?  Have the facts been distorted?
  • Is my visual aid as effective as it can be made?  Have I used all the available techniques to make it so?
  • Did I put enough effort into the planning of the visual aid?  Have I sought criticism from others?
  • Will it achieve my objectives?  Will my audience understand, appreciate and believe it?  If my presentation calls for some action by the audience, will it stimulate them to do so willingly?
  • Have I overlooked anything in the use of the visual aid?  Have I tested the visual aid?  Have I planned one or more rehearsals; if not, why?  Will my visual aid material be visible to the entire audience?

Visual Aid Checklist

(    )  Does the projector work properly? Bulb, lenses, change mechanism, fan.
(    )  Does each slide present a simple, clear message?
(    )  Are the slides arranged and numbered consistently and consecutively?
(    )  Are the slides clean and mounted properly?
(    )  Will the audience be able to see slide details in the location I plan to use?
(    )  Does the slide tray have a title slide at the beginning and a blind slide at the end to avoid blinding the audience with light?

Power Point or Transparencies
(    )  Is the lettering large enough to be seen by the audience?
(    )  Is the projector placed so that the audience has an unobstructed view?
(    )  Is the projector and slide color scheme adequate for the lighting of the room being used?
(    )  Does the projected image fit the screen?
(    )  Are my slides in proper order?
(    )  Does each present a clear message?
(    )  Is the projector compatible with the computer being used?

Video Tape
(    )  Do you have the correct machine for the tape you plan to show (Beta or VHS)?
(    )  Is the equipment in proper working order?
(    )  Is the tape set to start at the proper place and does it "track" properly?
(    )  Will the WHOLE audience be able to see the presentation?
(    )  Is the sound level on the monitor(s) set at the proper level?

The Location
(    )  Does the room match the size of the audience?
(    )  Is the location accessible to the physically disabled?
(    )  Can the lighting be controlled for showing slides and transparencies?  If so, is a reading light available?
(    )  Is the location equipped with a projector cart or table?
(    )  Are electrical outlets conveniently located--do I need extension cords?
(    )  Is the room equipped with an adequate screen?
(    )  If using video equipment, can monitors be set up at appropriate locations?
(    )  Does the room have a speakers table or podium?
(    )  Will the location be available prior to your meeting so you can set up and test your equipment?
(     )  Is the room equipped with a newsprint easel or chalkboard?
(    )  Does the room have chairs and tables or desks?  Can they be rearranged if needed?
(    )  Is the main entrance separated from the speaker area so that late arrivals will not disrupt your presentation?

Always check out the room and equipment in advance to see that it works properly!  Never assume that it will work without trying it first.  As a general rule, the more complicated the technolgy for an oral presentation, the more likely it will fail

Checklist for Tables and Charts

(    ) Be ruthless with numbers: use the fewest possible that will still convey the point of the visual.  Do not exceed twenty numbers or a single slide.
(    )  Combine numbers into larger sums wherever possible; eliminate any number that does not contribute significantly to your message.
(    ) Consider using a chart (pie, bar, etc.) for presenting some information, especially if you want to draw comparisons between two or more items.
(    ) When preparing charts use colors or patterns with a lot of contrast.
(    ) Split information into two or three smaller tables rather than using one huge table.  Use no more than three or four columns per table.
(    ) Have a short, yet descriptive, title that states the point of the visual.  Put it at the top.  Include a date at the bottom.
(    ) Label columns clearly and at the top.  Show the units (dollars or tons, for example).  On the left, label the statistics being compared.
(    ) Avoid footnotes and symbols that may not be generally understood by your audience.
(    ) Use light horizontal lines if they improve readability.
(    ) Be consistent.  Do not mix pounds and tons, years and months, gross and net.
(    ) Avoid decimal points whenever possible.  Use round numbers for tables and graphs.
(    ) Highlight the most important numbers with boxes, underlining, or color.
(    ) If arithmetic operations are not obvious, state them: (less), or "Less Depreciation Expense."
(    ) Eliminate zeros by expressing numbers in thousands or millions, if possible.
(    ) Show negative numbers in parentheses, not with minus signs.


Written materials often bear the greatest burden for the communication of new ideas and procedures.  Effective writing is the product of long hours of preparation, revision and organization.  One book that follows its own rules is Strunk and White's Elements of Style, a short book which argues persuasively for clarity, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English.  Its entire philosophy is contained in one paragraph:

“Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that EVERY WORD TELL.”

Clear, vigorous writing is a product of clear, vigorous thinking.  Clarity is born of discipline and imagination. Kirkpatrick gives the following guidelines for using written communication:

Use Written Communication When:

  • The sender wants a record for future references.
  • The receiver will be referring to it later.
  • The message is complex and requires study by the receiver.
  • The message includes a step by step procedure.
  • Oral communication is not possible because people are not in the same place at
  • the same time.
  • There are many receivers.  Caution:  the receivers must be interested in the subject and will put forth the time and effort to read and understand.
  • It is cheaper.  Caution:  the same as above.
  • A copy of the message should go to another person.
  • The receiver prefers written.

Advantages of Written Materials

  • Highly technical topics can be presented using words and diagrams.
  • Written material provides a permanent record that can be referred to from time to time or passed on to others.
  • Written material can be duplicated in large quantities or distributed on the Internet relatively inexpensively.
  • It is fairly easy to distribute written material to many people, but this practice is getting increasingly expensive and its effectiveness questionable.
  • Written material is preferred when it is desirable to get the same information to a group of people.
  • Written records and reports are sometimes useful in legal matters.
  • Written material may be useful for documenting the success or progress of some project or activity.

Disadvantages of Written Material

  • People seldom take the time and effort to read technical materials.
  • The preparation of written documents is time-consuming.
  • Once prepared in large quantities, printed documents are difficult to change.
  • Written material provides little feedback for the sender.
  • Technical documents are often too long and complex for the majority of readers.
  • A portion of the population may not be able to read written material.
  • Too much reliance on written material as a communication method may obscure the true needs of potential users.

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