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Oftentimes, we identify what something is by identifying what it is not, in order to understand how we are referring to public speaking in this text, we need to understand how public speaking differs from other contexts in which communication operates. In the following section, we will describe the communication contexts, which are the environment and circumstances between the participants that are communicating. I’ll use the example of Tom to explain each context.
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The first is intrapersonal communication. Intrapersonal communication is communication in which there is one person. Tom may notice that the local community Arts Center is falling into a state of disrepair. As a musician, Tom may think to himself that the Arts Center is vital to the well-being of the community and seeing the poor shape of the building, Tom may think about taking up the issue in front of the city council.
Tom may think to himself about the issue and when he mentions it to his roommate, Steve, there is interpersonal communication, which is communication between two people. Intrapersonal and interpersonal communication look alike, but they are very different in that one is self-addresses (intra) whereas the other in between two people (inter). Many scholars recognize that communication begins with two people, which is called a dyad, and not with one person, which is seen as an interest to psychology and not to communication. Others believe that Tom can debate whether or not to support the Arts Center by himself and consider this important for communication studies. That is, the debate is within one person but between two positions.
Now let’s say Tom and Steve both believe that the Arts Center is a really great idea, but they don’t have enough time between the two of them. They may enlist some other friends—Kevin, Brahm, Meredith, and Cara. When they all sit down and discuss the Arts Center they are engaging in small-group communication. In small group communication there is at least three individuals and can range up to twelve. While there is at least three, any less would be a dyad, the maximum number is defined by the ability of all those involved to contribute regularly to the discussion. Turning to a different example will be helpful. In court proceedings there are normally twelve members to a jury. If there were anymore, it would be questionable if everyone could participate. Now, you might be asking, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to have two people? Maybe. But groups are usually task based whereas dyads are relationally based (e.g., platonic/romantic). The more members of a group there are, the more ideas and different perspectives can be explored—it’s the Marketplace of Ideas in action. Nevertheless, there can be groups such as Tom and his friends that exist for different purposes such as friendship and inclusion.
Tom and all his friends all like the idea of rebuilding the Arts Center, but he has to go to work at the music store downtown. Tom goes off to work and talks to his coworkers and his manager about starting a petition about the Arts Center. Tom was so excited, he even wanted to tell the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company, but Tom cannot. The business that he works at is very large and the organization’s home office is on the other side of the country. Tom cannot just go into the CEO’s office and talk about a local Arts Center. The CEO is too busy making decisions and sitting in conferences, which can be a type of small group. Tom can, however, tell his supervisor directly over him who can then tell the area manager, who can in turn tell the district manager and eventually the message, if it’s important enough, can get to the CEO. Odds are the national CEO would not need to approve Tom’s use of the store to get people to sign a petition. That decision may be made by the local or regional manager. That is, the message would not get very high in the chain of command. On the other hand, the CEO can send messages down through the chain of command. For example, if the CEO of a company wants to implement a change in the way the records are displayed, then that message would be handed down through high-level managers to low-level managers until the message was received by the workers who would be affected by the change. This context in which messages go up and down hierarchies is called organizational communication.
Now let’s say for a moment that Tom and his friends were highly successful in the efforts to rebuild the Arts Center and decide to operate their own organization to build art centers throughout the world. They visit other cultures and do research, they will find four major dichotomies: individual and collective; high and low context, high and low power distance; and feminine and masculine, which are the basic concepts of intercultural communication, which is communication between (inter) cultures. Individual oriented cultures focus on the individual whereas a collective culture focuses on the community’s interests. In high context cultures, meaning is in the setting and therefore meaning is communicated implicitly whereas in low context cultures, the emphasis is on the spoken word and meaning is explicit. High and low power distance differ in that the[pg] former values such things as birth order and occupation and in low power distance cultures, everyone is considered equal. Lastly, is feminine and masculine, which is different from woman and man. Feminine traits generally focus on nurturing whereas masculine traits refer to assertiveness and competitiveness. Importantly, a man can be nurturing just as a woman can be assertive.
But if Tom and his friends all just focus on their local Arts Center, they may go to the library and uncover information about the city’s budget and the value or art to a community. He then arranges the information so that the speech flows nicely. Next, he memorizes the speech although he doesn’t need to memorize the speech word-for-word. He might compose some stylistic elements of the speech, which he memorizes exactly but may not memorize other lesser elements. Finally, he practices his delivery to get the most out if it. These are the elements in the context of public speaking. The rest of this book explains this context in great detail.
But let’s say Tom gives his speech outside the Arts Center, but many people were not around to hear it. He decides that he will send a press release to the local television and radio outlets that announce the date and time of his next speech. This causes the outlets to come and record the speech and broadcast it. Tom is now in the mass-mediated context. The difference between the Tom’s public speaking and the broadcast of Tom speaking is very important. In the public speaking context, Tom can see his audience. In the mass-mediated context, Tom cannot see his audience. The difference is slim but substantial. When Tom can see the audience, he can change his speaking style to reflect the audience. If the crowd is complacent, he can energize them; if they are cheering, he can become louder or wait until they are done. If he does not know the reactions of his audience, then he cannot do this. Watching great speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. speak show how reacting to the audience can do wonders for a speech.
The last context is the computer-mediated context. As its name suggests it is communication mediated through computer technology especially through the use of the Internet. Some people may record Tom’s speech with their digital cameras and place it online. Whereas mass-mediated communication only broadcast Tom’s speech to the local community, the computer-mediated context allows anyone with an Internet connection to view the speech. Thus, one of the major differences between mass communication and computer communication is the latter’s ability to transcend geographic limitations. That is, with computer-mediated communication, people in India, Luxemburg, or Samoa can view Tom’s speech. Not only can they view the speech but they can also offer comments and make their own videos responding to Tom’s.
Some may argue that mass communication can transcend geographical boundaries too. While they can to a certain degree, computer-mediated communication is far superior. You local television affiliate broadcasts news to your local community, the national news networks broadcast to the country. Some of these national networks are picked up around the world—just like Americans can watch the British news from the BBC on public television. These are examples of mass-communication transcending boundaries, but do you ever see local British news aired in America? Have you ever seen the local news from a town in any country in Africa? China? Russia? Probably not. Have you ever watched videos on YouTube.com from Africa, China, or Russia? Odds are you have. And these videos do carry the extremely local news—the events at school or in the neighborhood— and these events that the local news wouldn’t broadcast to the area can be posted for the entire world to watch.