We communicate for different reasons. Often, however, people talk without having a clear goal, and thus, fail to receive their expected reaction from their listeners. By studying the different functions of communication, you can modify your communication style depending on your intended purpose.
In the context of public speaking, there are three general functions of communication: to inform, to entertain, and to persuade (in Bulan et al., 2002; Wrench et al., 2012). These functions help the speaker determine his or her general purpose in delivering a speech. Although often associated with public communication, these functions are also present in mass communication and other speech contexts.
We communicate to transmit information to others. In every aspect of our lives, we make sense of what is happening around us by sharing, receiving, modifying, and reflecting on meaning. Information may be something listeners have no knowledge of or something that they may have previously encountered but may still be further developed. The goal of the speaker whose communication purpose is to inform is for the listener to retain the message being conveyed.
We communicate to amuse or evoke a positive emotion from our listeners. When you tell a joke, narrate a humorous story, or relate a funny experience, you are communicating to entertain. The occasion, the kind of audience, and time must be considered before delivering a humorous message. Communicating to entertain does not just involve humor but also drama. For instance, talking about a personal experience of struggle and achievement and being able to move and inspire the audience is considered entertaining speech.
We communicate to convince and move people to action. When you give commands, request someone to do something for you, or influence someone to think in a specific way, you are speaking to persuade. Convincing someone to buy a particular product, negotiating the price of merchandise, arguing about the effectiveness of a plan, defending your thesis, and promoting a certain agenda, or even asking for additional allowance requires persuasive skills. In order to persuade, the specific needs and interests of the listeners must be met.