Communicating in public

The most effective method of communicating an important message depends on many factors – including how the communicator gets the message across. Some people are gifted at presenting a message verbally to a large audience (e.g. in a lecture or meeting). Others may find large audiences intimidating, but may be excellent communicators in small groups or one-to-one interviews.

Whatever the setting or means of communication you choose, there are some general principles to keep in mind. These apply both when the communication is with one (interpersonal communication) or with many people:

Target audience

Gather as much information as possible about your target audience to ensure you design messages they will hear.

  • Reflect on the capabilities and concerns of your target audience – what do they need to understand to make informed decisions?

For example

Providing reassurance to concerned parents differs from communicating newly available evidence to experts at a conference.

  • Consider the age range of your audience.

For example

Informing teenagers learning about papilloma virus and HPV vaccination at school differs from talking to elderly people learning about influenza and flu vaccination at a community centre.

  • Take into account differing educational levels.

For example

Talking to preschool children differs from qualified nurses at an immunization clinic.

  • Mind language problems.

For example

Speaking to someone with the same local language differs from speaking to someone who has difficulties understanding your language.

  • Respect gender differences.

For example

Talking to female patients may differ from communicating to a male audience depending on your cultural context.

  • Take differing religious contexts into account.

Communication objective

  • What is your single overarching communications objective?
  • Identify what key messages are necessary to achieve that objective and consider the best ways to communicate them (for example, verbally, in writing or in pictures).

Structured communication

  • Communicate in a logical sequence.
  • Sum up the key points at the end.

Interactive communication

  • Encourage the audience to ask questions.
  • Thank the target audience for their attention.


Imagine that during an immunization campaign you have to communicate information in your country about vaccine safety and the benefits of immunization to either nervous parents and their child, or to teachers in a secondary school. Which of the following statements is correct?

Several answers possible.

A. Conduct an interview with a nervous young mother with her first baby choosing a quiet room to enable an atmosphere of trust.
B. Be aware of your time schedule when interviewing concerned parents. You should not take more than a few minutes to look into their concerns.
C. When communicating to teachers at a large secondary school, group them to get your message across to them at the same time and allow time for discussion to resolve potential information gaps in your audience.
D. Provide information material (posters, videos, slides) to target audiences that supports your key messages and provides additional information.


A, C and D are correct.

The best means of communicating with a nervous young mother may be a one-to-one interview in a room where you will not be disturbed and the conversation is private. Take time to listen to her concerns and reassure her that they are understandable. Use simplified messages in language that she can understand and do not overload her with too much technical detail. Leaflets that provide additional information to read later may serve well to reinforce your messages.

Communication with teachers at a large school can take place in a group meeting, so that your message can influence many of them at the same time. The room should be large enough to seat everyone comfortably, so they can all see you. Make sure, however, that the group is small enough that they can be heard by everyone if they ask questions. Use display materials (e.g. posters, video, slides) and provide hand-outs to read later to reinforce your messages.