In 1948, Benjamin S. Bloom began work on what would become one of the most popular and enduring methods used in education. What eventually began as a three-part strategy to categorize learning goals developed into a comprehensive theory published in 1956 and known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

While his ideas have been revised and reworded over the years, Bloom’s essential three categories have remained a guiding factor. And these three learning domains can be helpful to anyone who stands up to speak in front of any audience. He said learning can be divided into cognitive (about knowing), affective (about feeling), and psychomotor (about doing). Bloom’s ideas can give us new insight to the learning objectives we hope to accomplish when we present. In addition, this three-pronged approach can lead to a more complete presentation experience for our audience if we can answer these three questions.

Cognitive: What Do I Want My Audience to Know?

I like to think of information in terms of entering and exiting. Here’s what I mean by that. What information does my audience need to have entering the presentation to understand what’s coming up? The entering portion of your presentation should cover foundational information that you’ll build upon throughout the rest of your speaking time. It’s helpful here to examine whether you are making any assumptions about what they do or don’t know entering the presentation.

As far as exiting is concerned, you should be able to articulate what you want the audience to learn. What information should they be able to take away with them after the presentation is over? This is similar to learning objectives in a classroom or on a syllabus. That’s why Bloom’s Taxonomy can be so helpful teachers and speakers alike. But it’s not a new concept. Aristotle called it teleology, beginning with the end purpose in mind. Presentation coach and leadership strategist Jerry Weissman puts it like this, “Every communication has as its goal to take the audience from where they are at the start of your presentation, which is Point A, and move them to your objective, which is Point B.” What does your audience need to know to get to Point B?

Affective: How Do I Want My Audience to Feel?

Learning goals in the cognition category are pretty straightforward. But have you ever written down goals of how you want to make your audience to feel? That can seem a little strange at first. That is, until we start looking at how important emotion is in every stage of communication. Research has shown that emotions affect our attention, our engagement, our perception of the speaker, and even our recall of that information years later.

If writing full-sentence, specific emotional objectives feels too foreign or even a bit manipulative (which, by the way, is not the goal), try this. Plot your presentation on a line. Under the line, write down the main movements of your presentation. Things like introduction, main points, transitional statements, stories, and conclusion. Then, above that line, write down phrases or words of what you hope the audience will be experiencing emotionally during that part of your message. Words like excited, angry (a powerful emotional motivator), joyful, hopeful, and empowered are a few good ones. What other feelings do you want your audience to experience during the course of your message?

Psychomotor: What Do I Want My Audience to Do?

This one can be the hardest for speakers because we don’t often think beyond our presentations. However, I propose that speaking isn’t just about Point A and Point B. Great speakers are aiming for Point C. Point C is made up of those moments after the presentation ends when the audience members apply and live out and even advocate for your ideas and information.

What is your Point C? I’ve written before about the “so what?” turn at the end of a presentation. This is where you imagine every member of the audience looking at you in the last few minutes of your speech and asking you, “so what?” What do you want the audience to do as a result of the information you’ve given them and the emotions you’ve stirred up in them? When you are working on your next presentation, make sure you can articulate your Point C.

Weissman reminds us of this. “Understand, believe, and act are not three separate goals, but three stages in reaching a single, cumulative, ultimate goal.” Work to fully develop your cognitive, affective, and psychomotor goals for your next presentation. When you’ve know what you’re aiming for, you have a better chance of hitting your target.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning is one of the many research-driven methods we use to fuel our presentation development, design, and delivery. Ready to learn more, feel more, do more?


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