Distinctive Features of Public Speaking (Interference)

Interference can enter at any point in the process to disrupt the effectiveness of communication. Interference, which we discuss further in Chapter 3, can range from physical noise that impedes the hearing of a speech, such as a plane flying over the building, to psychological “noise” within speakers and listeners that prevents them from connecting.

Three forms of interference are especially troubling. The first is speaker apprehension. Fear is an understandable reaction to public speaking experiences. The situation may seem strange, and speakers may feel exposed and vulnerable. Listeners may seem distant, unfriendly, or threatening. Beginning speakers will learn to control their fears and to convert them into positive energy that adds sparkle and power to a speech. But at the outset, these feelings can interfere with effective communication.

A second form of interference is listener distraction, which imposes a barrier between an audience and a message. Listeners may decide that a topic really doesn’t concern them and lapse into daydreams. They may be distracted by worries over an upcoming test or dreams about the weekend ahead. Limitations in the physical setting, such as poor acoustics or a noisy environment can add to the distraction. Listener apprehension, the counterpart of speaker apprehension, can further compound the problem. We discuss such fear of listening in Chapter 3. The result of all these factors is psychological drift away from the speech. The message never really reaches the listener, and there is no true response to the speech.

A third important form of interference is cultural barriers. People from different backgrounds can view each other suspiciously. Speakers may prejudge how certain listeners will respond to their words and as a result make poor adaptations that listeners resent. Listeners may fear hidden agendas and close their minds to the speaker’s words. Stereotypes about race, gender, lifestyle, religion, nationality, and so forth can clutter our heads with prejudice that blocks the fair reception and interpretation of messages. The result is psychological distance and misunderstanding-the opposite of what speakers hope to achieve.

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