Your presentation will be more successful if you understand and utilize basic concepts of communication. If you leave out any aspect of the process, your communication may fail.
Several theories of communication exist, but here’s my way of looking at it. (This type of diagram is easy to create with PowerPoint‘s SmartArt.) Someone recently told me that this is similar to Argyle’s 6-step Communication Cycle.
Step 1: The sender expresses the message
The first step in the process of communication occurs when the sender expresses a message. Communication always has a purpose, goal, or objective. If you don’t know what that is, you can’t express the message clearly. Common objectives are:
- To motivate (to work harder or smarter)
- To inform (about the results of a process or facts needs to make a decision)
- To teach
- To persuade (to make a certain decision, to buy a product)
- To entertain
- To inspire
You could separate the sender from the message and make this two steps.
Step 2: The medium transmits the message
The sender uses a medium to transmit a message. Media can be oral or written. It can be physical (printed matter), electrical (television), or electronic (e-mail). Media can be in words or images. When you deliver a PowerPoint presentation, you’re using oral and electronic media of transmission, usually with both words and images.
For best communication, you want to choose the best medium. Sometimes, PowerPoint is not the best option. I’ve seen cartoons about a young man proposing marriage to a young woman with a PowerPoint presentation. “Nice PowerPoint, but no.” You get the idea.
Step 3: The recipient interprets the message
Ay, there’s the rub. The people who hear the message don’t always interpret it the way you’d like. In fact, ask three people what they heard at a presentation and you’ll get three different answers.
What do you do?
First, you construct and deliver the message with the audience in mind. What do they want to hear? What do they need to hear? How much do they already know? What perspectives do they bring with them? In other words, you need to craft the message for the audience.
Second, you try to remove any obstacles to clear understanding. In communication theory, this is often called noise. Noise can be any of the following:
- Distractions, such as an overly exciting or irrelevant background on your slides
- Discomforts, such as hard chairs or a cold room.
- Prejudices that people bring with them. You may need to state your assumptions or explain why certain assumptions are not valid.
Finally, you get feedback.
Step 4: Feedback returns the interpretation of the recipient to the sender
Feedback ensures that the recipient understood the message by sending the recipient’s interpretation back to the sender. The recipient becomes the sender and the sender becomes the recipient, completing the communication loop.
When you deliver a PowerPoint presentation, you get feedback by asking for it. You can have a question and answer period, ask for opinions throughout, or include a feedback form in a handout. Note that if you do the latter, you won’t be able to start the cycle again right away. Instead, you’ll have to initiate a later round of communication (such as an e-mail) to correct any misunderstandings.
Depending on the circumstances and your objective, you may be able to create a discussion after the presentation to allow ideas to move among the audience members as well as between them and you.
In an educational setting, you might think that the exam is the feedback, but you don’t want to wait until the test to find out that the students didn’t understand the lesson. So teachers should also ask for questions to allow for on-the-spot clarification.
The important point is that you should use feedback to restart the cycle. Did someone misunderstand a point? Then explain it again in different words. See if the feedback is more accurate the second time.
If you follow these steps, you’ll go far toward becoming a great communicator.