Rather than the Message itself, the way in which the Speaker crafts the Message can affect how it is received by the stakeholder Audience. The medium and the Message are inextricably linked, and a Speaker’s craft can either foster or destroy logos (logic), ethos (credibility), and pathos (emotional connection) in communications. For example, even a well-reasoned argument suffers from poor grammar or misspellings. Likewise, many frown upon ending a relationship over text or email. Formal papers and presentations generally avoid colloquial words; and jargon, acronyms and highly technical language detract from presentations to the general public.

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan1McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, M. A. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press.

Style is an abstract concept to describe how a communication is crafted. This includes diction, tone and voice. Usually, the stakeholder Audience processes style subconsciously. Inconsistencies and mismatches in style reduce the effectiveness of communications. There are several examples listed below that demonstrate how style influences the Message.

  • A text message to a colleague asking about the office holiday party written in the style of a formal memo may be perceived as disingenuous.
  • A formal conference presentation presented as a dialog or “off the cuff” may be considered inappropriate or represent to the Audience that the Speaker is unprepared.
  • An email to your point of contact at another organization asking politely and succinctly for a useful dataset on a reasonable timeline is more likely to evoke the intended response.

Due to the diverse nature of human perception, all of these situations may also produce the opposite effect. Thus, knowing the Audience and adapting the style to the Audience contributes enormously to effective communications.

However, there is another reason for adapting and maintaining an appropriate style. Whether or not you are your agency’s or organization’s dedicated contact person with the media, the modern saturation of technology means that everyone is representing at all times. It is no longer possible to know who has a camera or audio recorder or what their intentions may be with that footage. If you work for a state agency, your emails or text messages on the state’s phone may be released through open information requests. Anyone from any public or private organization may have their emails or communications subpoenaed by the courts. Therefore, it is best practice to keep all oral and written communication clear, concise and representative of your organization.

Images: “Farmer meet Roughneck” by Jan Buchholtz licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0