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Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Message

Instructor: Vicki Duke

Vick teaches college Communications, and owns a Public Speaking consulting company.

The consequences of ineffective communication can be significant, and far-reaching. It is important that we evaluate the effectiveness of our message by developing and using strategic questions to identify strengths and weaknesses. In this lesson, we will identify the qualifies of an effective message, and explore strategies for evaluating our own work.

Why Is it Important?

Have you ever been misunderstood, or surprised by a reaction to your message? We are often poor judges of our own communications. We may be certain of a message, its meaning and intent, and may assume that the message will be clear to the receiver. Without guidelines in place, evaluating our own messages may prove to be a subjective exercise. It is helpful, therefore, to have some objective standards by which to measure them.

There are four main qualities for an effective message:

  • Simplicity
  • Specificity
  • Structure
  • Stickiness

Strategies for Evaluating a Message

In order to evaluate whether a message is effective, we can ask ourselves a series of questions which reflect a message's simplicity, specificity, structure, and stickiness. Let's take a look at some of these questions now.

Simplicity

In order to ensure that our messages have simplicity, we should ask ourselves two questions:

  • Is my purpose evident?
  • Is my core message clear?

The purpose of a message will be either to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. Knowing the purpose will guide us in the choice of information to include, and in its organization. Informative speaking will rely heavily on data, while persuasion will employ emotional appeals, as well as data, and require a different structure. A message with the intent to entertain will have a very unique focus. Awareness of purpose is crucial, in order that our audience will know the purpose of the message, and be able to respond appropriately.

A core message must have a clear and simple focus. One strategy to ensure clarity and simplicity is to express the core message in a single sentence. By doing so, we are forced to laser-focus the message, and eliminate unnecessary or tangential ideas. If this task is difficult, it is a good indication that the core message is too broad. Writing the core message in a single sentence should be undertaken early in the preparation stages, but may be reviewed again later, to ensure that the message has remained on track.

Specificity

Specificity refers to our choices of language and its usage. In order to ensure language is specific, we may ask ourselves:

  • Is my language specific?
  • Is my language concrete, rather than abstract?
  • Are there connotative meanings to the words I have chosen? If so, do these emotional associations serve or go against my purpose?
  • Am I using words which have additional meanings, and could perhaps be misconstrued?

We should ensure that language is as specific as possible. If you mean 'poodle,' avoid saying 'dog.' Language should be concrete, so that our readers or listeners can vividly picture our ideas, translating words into memorable images. Avoiding abstractions is one way to avoid vague or confusing messages. The more specific we can be, the more likely our audience will comprehend and take action. For example, 'eat well' is a vague and abstract idea, while 'consume an avocado a day' is concrete and specific.

Certain words carry hidden emotional meanings. 'House' refers simply to a physical structure, while 'home,' for many people, connotes warmth, support, family etc. We should be cautious when using words with multiple meanings or interpretations. My definitions for 'murder' or 'freedom' may be very different from your definitions.

Structure

Ideas should be logically organized and easy to follow.

  • Does my message have a structure?
  • Is there a more effective way to arrange my ideas?

Every message should include an introduction, body, and conclusion. Introductions should introduce topic, core idea, relate the topic to audience, and preview main ideas. Conclusions should briefly summarize main ideas, re-state the core message, and specify a call to action.

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