Conveying Reliable Information with Confidence in Front of Other People

I Didn't Always Believe that Presenting Is a Necessary Skill

Many semesters, my students breathe an audible sigh of relief when I say "we have no presentations for this course."  As a writing teacher, I thought it wasn't necessary for students to present their ideas in front of the class — since my students wrote their ideas, talked within their groups, and had regular meetings with me, I already had many means by which to gauge their communication skills.  Also, I'm not a COMM instructor — public speaking has never been the core focus of my class.

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay  

We Promote Writing through Multimodal Commuication

However, I've come to realize that all communication — especially the distribution of written communication — is highly dependent upon all five multimodal modes.  For example, you'll always check the cover of a book before you buy it.  What we choose to read, choose to watch, and ultimately choose to believe about the world is highly influenced by the ways in which information is presented.  In the real world of limited time and attention, we rely on gestural cues to decide who we trust, visual cues to decide what looks interesting, and aural cues to determine what sounds appealing.  Naturally, much depends on what's been placed before us — hence, the reason why advertisers pay massive amounts of money for Super Bowl ads.  Large corporations know that spatial placement in front of the largest possible number of eyeballs is a key component to establishing a brand in the public consciousness.  For smaller companies, social media allows complex means to target very precise ads based on very personal information.

Modes of Communication and Climate Change

This phenomenon is hardly limited to pictures of that boy wizard with the lightning scar — even scientists must employ graphics, websites, and executive summaries to convey decades of research.  For most audiences, it isn't enough to provide evidence and and conclusions in a carefully worded report — instead, professionals in all fields rely on additional modes to help publicize their works, to help draw attention to what matters.  This is one reason why journalism is such an important field, and why secondary sources are often extremely helpful for understanding complex concepts.  In the Vox video "Is It Wrong to Fly?" Joss Fong and her co-hosts use interviews, data charts, and a metaphorical demonstration of arctic sea ice to explain the consequences of personal trips via airline, providing a far more moving explanation of climate change than is possible from a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

in a manner that the public and elected officials will choose to review.  Simply consider the cases of vaccines, climate change, and 

Example IPCC Report

Even with the charts and explanatory text, this page from the IPCC Special Report "Global warming of 1.5°C" offers the kind of dense scientific language that many audiences tend to avoid.  And this isn't even a true research article — it's largely intended for governmental leaders outside the scientific community.

Page from IPCC climate change report with graphs of past and predicted global temperatures.

Example of IPCC Website

Naturally, the IPCC is aware that not everyone is interested in reading a scientific report.  On their website, they highlight different sections of their findings, drawing attention to issues of particular concerns.  Through images of people and nature, they're using the visual mode to draw in audiences.

Scene of a scuba diver highlighting Chapter 3 of a recent IPCC report on climate change.

But Why Do We Dread This Key Skill?

According to Theo Tsaousides in Psychology Today, the anxiety we often experience with public speaking is a natural phenomenon.  However, practice in public speaking can make it easier — as Tsaousides explains, your confidence as a public speaker partly depends upon how you perceive your own abilities — and "Increased competence leads to increased confidence, which is an effective antidote to fear."