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1 Advanced Organizers

One of the exercises that we use in a negotiation course is an exercise in one-way and two-way communication. The exercise works like this: We select a participant from the course to be the communicator. He or she is given a diagram of seven shapes (circles, rectangles, and squares) that are connected to each other. Using one-way communication, the communicator must describe—in as much detail as possible—the figures on the handout, while the listeners draw the diagram to the best of their ability based only upon the verbal description. The communication can only be one way and the communicator cannot use hand gestures—only his or her verbal skills—to describe the shapes in the diagram. The participants are not allowed to ask questions.

The exercise is then repeated with a different diagram that uses the same shapes but in an equally difficult arrangement. This time, however, the communicator and the listeners can engage in two-way communication. The quality of the diagram always improves when both the listeners and the communicator give each other feedback. The attendees ask for directions to be repeated, and both parties develop a richer way of communicating using angles, degrees, clock numbers, and analogies such as "it looks like a wagon" to make the communication richer, more thorough, and more precise.

Every once in a while, a superb communicator volunteers for the role of describer. What is different about this communicator is that the volunteer intuitively understands the concept of advanced organizers. By this we mean that the volunteer will start by saying, "I am going to describe a grouping of seven shapes, there is one square, two circles, and four rectangles," or he or she will say, "I will describe the shapes and their sizes in a minute, but before I do that, I want you to know that I will be describing the shapes in a clockwise direction."

Advanced organizers create a frame of reference for what follows. When advanced organizers are used, the people reproducing the diagram are told how the communicator will proceed, that is, in a clockwise direction, and that the diagram is made up of seven shapes. Because the participants know how many shapes there are and in what direction the shapes will be described, it makes the whole process of understanding their task that much easier.

Just as the superb communicator in the one-way/two-way communication exercise used an advanced organizer to help the participants reproduce the diagram, Master_Presenters use advanced organizers to tell the participants how the presentation will proceed by giving them an overview of its structure. This structure also helps the participants organize the presentation in their own minds and, hence, remember it more effectively. Appropriate visual aids make the organizational structure more apparent to the listener. For example, how many times have you heard, "That was point number three," and you can't even recall that there was a point number two? That's why it is usually necessary to say at the outset how many points you will be making. Then, as each point is checked off, remind the listener: "That was point number two," while restating a key-word summation of the point.

Remember, it is not possible to be too clear. Research has proved that people both understand and remember information hierarchically. By using advanced organizers, Master_Presenters help the attendees both understand and remember the presentation more effectively.


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