Ever since the time of Aristotle, we have learned by categorizing things. That’s the way understanding works. We hear a word or see an image, and then we try to put it into a category so we can assign meaning to it.
Generally, we break concepts into superordinate, basic, and subordinate categories. These levels move from general to specific. We, as speakers, can organize our content in a similar way. This strategy mimics what our brains do when we create meaning. So it will be familiar for your audience. So today, we’ll learn how concept categorization can help your organize your content and increase your audience’s understanding.
The superordinate level of concept categorization is the most general. With this categorization level, you don’t focus in on specific, individual qualities of the item or concept. Instead, you simply try to figure out how to largely classify it. For example, a dog (which is a basic concept) might be more largely classified as an animal or a mammal.
Imagine you want to explain a new product to a customer. But this is an entirely new invention. It’s not like any other product that exists. To show the customer the product right away might confuse him, so you need to first help him understand what large category your product fits in. When and how might the customer use it? What is it like? What is it not like? When you are developing content that might be new to your audience or difficult for them to understand, take your time. Make sure they get the larger view of where your content fits in the grand scheme of things.
We use basic concepts like dogs, chairs, tree, etc. to help us create meaning. After you’ve established the superordinate category, you want to gradually get more specific with your content. As you establish the basic categories in your content, you might also need to shape your audience’s perceptions of those categories. Not everyone has the same feelings about certain categories.
For example, if you are talking about a dog to someone who has been attacked by one, that person is likely to view any type of dog through the lens of his attack experience. So if you are giving a presentation about a productivity tracking program your company is implementing, but the company has tried several similar measures before with little or negative effects, you’ll have to do some work to make sure this new program doesn’t end up in the trash heap that is the old category.
In this last stage of concept categorization, you define the subordinate categories into which your ideas fall. In order to do this, you need to go into greater specific detail. The question “what kind?” will help you.
For example, if you are presenting that productivity tracking program, you’ll need to figure out what it’s truly aimed at by asking and answering, “what kind of program” it is. Does it ultimately aim to reward employees or to punish them? It is meant to help save time or save money? This type of information is what you are really aiming at covering with your content. But it makes sense to lead the audience there rather than jumping right into it.
The way that we categorize the information in our presentations can greatly influence our audience’s ability to understand. Try using the flow of superordinate, to basic, to subordinate categorization for your next presentation. If you do, you’ll find yourself in this pattern: step and stop, step and stop. Ask the audience to look at your ideas. Tell them a bit about them. Then take a step closer. With more detail in view, stop and look at your ideas again. Tell them a little more about them, help them refocus as you redefine. Then take a step closer. With your ideas even clearer now, go into more detail, continuing to sharpen and guide their perspective.
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