How can you ensure that communication not only occurs but occurs clearly and well? Beyond speaking the same language and using gestures acceptable to and understood by audiences, Hasson notes that "our ability to communicate relies on our ability to have common ground." Common ground, of course, is that which speaker and audience share or, sometimes, just acknowledge.
It includes background—geographical, educational, societal, cultural. It includes values and beliefs, pastimes and concerns, prior knowledge, experience, disposition.
Unless common ground exists or is created and is built upon, communication suffers; it may not occur at all. Common ground can be as ethereal as the wish of a speaker to share ideas, knowledge, or stories, to entertain or inform, and, on the part of audience members, a wish to hear the speaker do so. Such common ground often underlies the speaker circuit that brings various personalities to college campuses and community auditoriums.
But establishing common ground may also be a more complex undertaking, one requiring a thoughtful and thorough audience analysis. Through such analysis the speaker learns and then can consider the audience characteristics that contribute or fail to contribute to their common ground.
If, for instance, a speaker is to address a Swiss audience, a cultural analysis should tell her that analogies or metaphors that hinge on American football would be more meaningful if they centered on skiing, hiking, mountain climbing. Speaking to a Chinese audience, a presenter who makes references to large nuclear families would be not only ignoring the experience of most of his audience but perhaps being indelicate.
Being able to predict with some certainty an audience's attitude toward presenter, subject, and message allows the speaker to widen the common ground and provide the kinds of diction and support most likely to be acceptable to that audience.
Without common ground, communication is rudimentary at best. And rudimentary is not good enough for most communicators. Locate common ground and speak from it to align listeners' brains with your own. Cultivate it; communication follows.