I promised you a discussion about messages which are the basis of all communication, oral, written, and visual. With everything we do, say, write, and with every gesture we communicate. Intentional or not, we cannot, not communicate.
In my visual communication studies, I looked at the concepts of presence, intertextuality, and interplay. What does it all mean? In this Part 1 of 2, I’ll discuss presence. In Part 2, I’ll discuss intertextuality, and interplay, and tie it all together. Keep in mind that these concepts only represent a small portion of a much larger body of knowledge about messages.
Presence refers to what is present in the elements as well as how much notice-ability the communication can elicit. For instance, two women walk into a room. One is wearing a business suit of grey with a grey blouse, has her hair pulled back into a pony tail, and wears no makeup. The other is wearing a red dress and has the classic look of flawless skin, long dark eye lashes and red lips. Her hair is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. Which woman do you suppose has presence? Which is noticed and followed with all eyes in the room? For how long?
Perhaps the plainly dressed woman is a well-known, powerful corporate leader worth billions of dollars and is greatly respected and admired for her charitable work. Now which woman do you think will elicit presence? In the short term, it may be the red dress. In the long term it may be the philanthropist. How will the conversations go as the two enter the room at the same time? I think you may be able to imagine, but for the sake of brevity, the key might sound like this: “I’ve never seen her before and yes she’s stunning, but do you know who the lady is the grey suit is! It’s Mary S., the most powerful woman in the [name the industry] and one of the richest women in the world. “
In communication we can control presence as it is described by Perelman, “displaying of certain elements on which the speaker (message creator) wishes to center attention in order that they may occupy the foreground of the hearer’s (reader’s, viewer’s) consciousness (Perelman, 1968). So in creating messages like slogans, advertising copy, and so on, we must consciously analyze how the message will be received. What will it bring to mind? Here’s an example.
In journalism, we used to and may still sometimes see a person who is not (put in the desired group) referred to as (put in the somehow derogatory label). Let’s use the real life example of doctors. It wasn’t that long ago that when someone mentioned (in the U.S., at least) a doctor, most people immediately had a vision of a white, older heterosexual male (WOHM). So if you were not in that group you were referred to as the (woman, black, etc.) doctor. The writer might as well come right out and said, “I know it’s hard to believe that a (____________) could be a doctor.” We were driven to focus on the fact that the doctor was not WOHM, thus not as qualified or skilled.
Times have changes and things are somewhat better. A contrived focus may detract from what the message creator doesn’t want you to focus on, much like magic. Awareness of these types of communication strategies can help you to create better, more effective messages. There are many other tools, tricks, means, etc. to know and understand. It’s sometimes best to leave it to the experts because they should have learned the nitty gritty details and be able to apply them. (When hiring an expert you will want to be sure that they really do know what they are doing and have a good reputation. Check their credentials and references.)
Read Part 2 for a continuation and conclusion to this brief about messages.
Reference: Perelman, C. in Perelman, C. and Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1986). The new rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation. Translated by Jon Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. P. 142.