By the end of this chapter, you will be able to
- Determine the context for a message.
To create an effective message, whether oral or written, you will need to assess several factors including the context for the message, the intended purpose of the message, the primary and secondary audiences, and the most appropriate channel. Chapters 1.4 through 1.7 address these factors.
The context is the situation in which the audience will receive the message. The context includes the space in which the message is delivered or received, the timing of the message, and the external events or cultural environment that might affect the audience reaction to the message.
The space in which the audience receives the message may influence their reaction. If you are going to be presenting a speech in class, your context will be the familiar space of your classroom or online environment. If you are writing an email to a new client, your context will be the email form and format. Other contexts might include a business conference room, a restaurant where you are the featured speaker for a dinner meeting, or a podium that has been set up outdoors for a sports award ceremony.
The time of your speech will relate to people’s natural patterns of behavior. If you give a speech right after lunch, you can expect people to be a bit sleepy. Knowing this, you can take steps to counter this element of the context by making your presentation especially dynamic, such as having your audience get up from their seats or calling on them to answer questions at various points in your speech. If you send an email to a small business near closing time, your message may not receive the full attention of your audience as they work to close out the cash registers and restock inventory.
You also need to consider your topic within the cultural context. The culture of a nation or a religious or ethnic group consists of the values and beliefs that group shares. Like any other group of people, organizations have a culture that defines them. This culture is often expressed in the “About us” or “Mission and Values” section of the website or outlined in the narrative section of the annual report. The PwC Canada website, for example, has a section entitled “Discover our Culture” on their Careers page. This section highlights some of the values that define the organization: “PwC Canada thrives on collaboration, innovation and above all we embrace difference. We see your unique differences as a key asset to our community. Rather than have you blend in, we want to help you unleash your full potential – both personally and professionally.”
As business communicators, you will need to be aware of the potential impact of social change on audience expectations of content and language. The larger cultural context may affect how your readers will use, apply, or accept your information. If you are presenting a speech on the importance of affordable housing in October of an election year, your audience may be aware of the debates about this issue in the media and may have strong emotions about it. If you are writing a report on commercial lobster fisheries in Atlantic Canada and fail to include Sipekne’katik fishers’ claim to a moderate livelihood or cuts to crab quotas off the coast of Labrador, your audience may interpret this as insensitivity or cultural bias.
Cultural context also refers to the culture within the organization itself.
Apply the information from the reading to the following scenario. You will continue working with this scenario in the following chapters:
You have been hired for a co-op position in your field with your ideal employer. You are starting your co-op during the busy season. Your supervisor has asked you to write an email introducing yourself to the other members of your department.
In preparing to write this email, identify three aspects of the context that influence your strategy in communication. If you are not familiar with the organization, visit their website to get a general sense of what this organization’s mission and values are (look for the About Us page).