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Distinctive Features of Public Speaking (Setting)

A speech occurs within a physical and psychological setting that can determine how well it succeeds. The physical setting in which a speech is presented can include such factors as the time the speech is given; the time allotted for the presentation the pace of the presentation, and the size and arrangement of the audience. For example, when speaking outside, a speaker may need a more forceful presentation than when speaking in a small room. A larger audience may require a more formal manner of presentation than a smaller audience. The very quality of the physical setting can affect the speech. For example, one of the most profound discussions of the ethics of communication, Plato’s Pbaedrus, written in ancient Greece some 2,400 years ago, takes place in a woodland setting that frames and colors its message appropriately. In this setting, Socrates envisions an ideal communication that promotes spiritual growth for both listeners and speakers.

One classroom setting in which we taught recently required us to open windows and doors because both heating and air conditioning were inadequate. Speakers often had to contend with unpredictable distractions from outside. The room had an oblong shape, shallow in depth but wide, so that listeners were spread out in front of the speaker. This required the speaker to shift attention from side to side to maintain eye contact. Most of our students eventually learned to adapt to this setting.

The psychological setting for a speech includes such factors as the occasion for the speech and the context of recent events. The occasion for a speech sets the stage for what listeners expect. If they anticipate an informative presentation on investing in the stock market but instead hear a sales pitch for mutual funds, they may feel exploited. Recent events can change the climate of communication and a major crime occurs on campus shortly before your presentation, you may need to adapt your message to fit the changed situation.

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