oral communication… is like trying to catch a cloud

The oral as a performative utterance or more traditionally, public speaking, oral communication, etc., is about capturing sound both as performer and as audience.

When you stand to speak or share an idea live and orally with someone else, you are performing an utterance of that idea fashioned as sound.

And, because the utterance is sound-based when you perform it live, the sound of that idea vanishes the moment it has been uttered.

This bears significantly on what you say, why and how you say it, when you stand to speak to your audience. It is the one single factor that determines how you proceed when communicating orally and live.

‘In oral discourse, …there is nothing to backlog into outside the mind, for the oral utterance has vanished as soon as it is uttered.1

When you stand to speak, unlike a text on a page, nothing remains of the expression of the idea because ideas expressed orally are sound-based, and ‘sound exits only when it is going out of existence.’  The audience’s awareness of or relationship with the idea is after the sound of the idea has gone. It is like trying to catch a cloud. You think it’s tangible but in reality when you reach out, there is nothing to touch.

Where writing establishes in the text a ‘line of continuity outside the mind… [where] the context can be retrieved by glancing back over the text selectively… always available piece meal on the inscribed page. In oral discourse this situation is different. There is nothing to backlog into outside the mind, for the oral utterance has vanished as soon as it is uttered.’

Literally no tangible deposit remains of the idea uttered live and orally.

The minute it’s spoken, the oral expression of the idea has vanished, unlike text-based ideas which remain permanently on the page. The oral expression is  immediate and transient. It has no presence beyond the sound of its expression and only at the moment it is expressed. ‘What did you just say?’

There is no way of retracing your steps back over the ideas communicated the first time they were uttered because there is nothing left of them – the image of the idea, in its oral form, has gone.

Whatever it was you said has ceased to exist.

Indeed, it started to vanish as you started to say it. ‘Sound exits only when it is going out of existence.’  As you uttered the idea, whatever came after obliterates in real time whatever came before. And, if your audience is not listening or present in the moment , they will miss whatever it was you said. The utterance or expression of your idea has no tenure; it leaves no imprint.

And it is this quality that makes oral ideas both in their origin and in their expression unique. The oral demands that a very particular idea is uttered and the oral demands that it be uttered in a very particular way.

The oral as idea, as sound, as form and as premiss – the oral mind as performer and audience.

The magic of an oral performance – painting with sound.


  1.  Walter J. Ong,  Orality and Literacy, Routledge, 2002.

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