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Misunderstandings about Public Speaking

Because the process of communication is so complex, it is often misunderstood. It would simplify matters if a person could convey thoughts telepathically to another person. If thoughts did not have to be formulated in a speaker’s brain, expressed through that speaker’s words, transmitted through the air, perceived through the listener’s ears, understood in the listener’s mind, and responded to verbally by the listener, a message would always be understood. But that is not possible. Instead, God created humans to have thoughts and feelings which, to be understood by others, must be expressed in words. The complexity of communication requires study and practice throughout the lifespan.

Many counseling books unveil the critical need for communication within marriage. For years, during pre-martial counseling, my (Monica) father would place three rocks before the couple, signifying the three foundations of a marriage. One of those rocks stood for the critical need to communicate (connection); the others for communion (intimacy) and cooperation (marital roles). Married couples certainly benefit from the mastery of communication.

While there are numerous misunderstandings about communication, Duane Litfin presents three common ones in his book, Public Speaking: A Handbook for Christians.[1] These misunderstandings can confuse both the speaker and the listener.

Misunderstanding 1: Each act of communication is separate and discrete and can be studied as such. The truth is that communication is a complicated, interactive process.

Misunderstanding 2: Communication is linear in the sense that a message travels one way from a source to a receiver. The truth is that human communication is circular. It begins with a spoken word and continues with further interactions.

Misunderstanding 3: The speaker transfers thought to the listeners. The truth is the listener filters information through personal perspective in order to understand the message spoken.

These misunderstandings reflect the complexity of the process of communication. Though complex, communication is an essential interaction among humans to convey messages, build relationships, and serve others. Understanding these myths about communication will improve overall communication and strengthen relationships.

Seven Pinker, and Paul Bloom declared, “Speaking is innate, writing is an invention.”[2] Oral communication has several distinctive components which contrast it from written communication.[3]  These differences must be considered when speaking verbally. First, oral communication tends to be more direct than written expression. Nonverbal cues can clarify meaning while more description is necessary in writing. Second, oral communication tends to be more repetitive or redundant than written discourse. Readers can refer back to information that is written, while listeners need repetition for better understanding. Third, oral communication tends to be more fragmentary. Written language includes complete thoughts and sentences. Fourth, oral communication tends to be more personal. Readers typically include a variety of people not only those close enough to listen personally. One needs to be aware of these distinctives when preparing to speak. Information needs to be delivered to be heard, not read.

One of my (Monica) favorite Bible verses is Psalm 45:1,  “My heart is moved by a noble theme as I recite my verses to the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” I love to write and find I am able to express on paper what is often difficult to express aloud. When I turned twelve years old, I started keeping a prayer journal. I would write out my prayers. Journaling became a daily discipline for me and helped me to articulate on paper what I was thinking about or struggling with each day. I found in my writing that I was much more detailed when I wrote out my prayers on paper than when I prayed out loud. However, when I have been asked to pray at a women’s event or small group setting, I never hand out copies of a prayer to be read by everyone. I speak them out loud to the Lord on behalf of the women in the group. As women hear what is spoken out loud, there is a connection. Words spoken out loud are different than words written out on paper.

According to Litfin, there are several distinct advantages of public speaking.  First, important messages must often be communicated to a large number of people. It is much more practical and beneficial for a major thought to be shared one time to a larger group than many times one-to-one. Second, a public speech is a message which can be organized and prepared by the speaker. Thoughtful preparation increases the clarity and improves the effectiveness of the communication. Third, a public speech allows the ideas to be heard by the listeners who can postpone a response until the ideas are fully understood.[4] While spontaneous, interpersonal conversation will always be a part of daily life and church ministry, skilled public speaking can enhance the message delivery among groups and even among individuals. What misconceptions do you encounter about public speaking?

            [1] Duane Litfin, Public Speaking: A Handbook for Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 19-21.

            [2] S. Pinker, and P.Bloom.”Natural language and natural selection,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13, 4 (1990), 707–784.

            [3] Litfin, Public Speaking, 275-77.

            [4] Litfin, Public Speaking, 27.


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