TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
What The Artist is telling us (silently)

Recent winner of five Academy Awards, seven British Academy
Film Awards, and three Golden Globes, Michel Hazanavicius's
2011 silent movie The Artist must have done some things right.
Besides providing viewing pleasure to many of us, it reminds us
of three basic principles of effective communication: the power
of nonverbal communication, the possible ambiguity of pictures
without text, and the potential of effective redundancy as a way
to compensate for the losses resulting from distractions (noise).

The Artist

First, nonverbal communication is powerful, among other things
for conveying moods, emotions, and attitudes. Nonverbal means
visual, of course, but also (and not to be underestimated) vocal:
the tone, rate, and volume of one's voice in an oral presentation,
and musical accompaniment in a silent movie such as The Artist.
In oral presentations, vocal and visual delivery contributes much
to a speaker's credibility, mostly by revealing his or her sincerity.

Second—and powerful as it might be—nonverbal communication
is often ambiguous and can thus benefit from verbal clarification:
a message (the so what) in the form of a full sentence as the title
of visual aids such as slides or as the caption of figures in papers,
and a sentence on the intertitles of silent movies. Used sparingly,
text is a justified component of otherwise visual representations.

Third, the lack of redundancy renders communication vulnerable
to noise (or rather to the consequences of noise, namely losses).
I watched The Artist on the plane, clearly not in an ideal setting.
Each time I would look away from my screen, even if very briefly,
for example to glance at a passenger passing in the aisle, I would
lose something in the story—much more than in talking movies,
for which hearing the dialog when I glance away helps me follow
the story line with little or no interruption. In oral presentations,
audience members who missed something the speaker just said
can similarly catch up if the matching slide conveys the message
as an instance of effective redundancy, that is to say, on its own
yet without distracting the attendees away from spoken content.
And audiences at conferences or in other professional situations
can be subjected to just as much noise as I was during my flight.

I very much enjoyed watching The Artist—for its artistic qualities,
for its learning potential, and of course for its tap-dancing act.   ;–)

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