Spatial Organization.

My child's daycare center uses a developmental game in which they put a pile of differently colored lego blocks and set of cannisters with the names of colors on them in front of the child. The child then has to separate the blocks into the proper cannisters. It doesn't matter how the child gets the job done, as long as at the end all of the blues are together, reds are together, etc. This is not only a good developmental exercise, it is a good example of Spatial Organization. Spatial organization focuses on the placement of sites or objects relative to one another. It is a way of organizing the three-dimensional world for an audience. The kids are given "directions," but they are not chronological. The kid makes sense of the experience by relating things according to WHERE, not what, when or how.

It wasn't that hard to get you from anywhere in the world to the Chrysler Building using Chronological Organization for two reasons:

  1. New York has a fairly well-organized system of public transportation, and
  2. Midtown Manhattan is, for the most part, laid out in nice, straight square streets and avenues.

We also know the point of origin (LaGuardia Airport) of the process. But what if our mythical tourist can't go straight to the Chrysler Building? What if she has to check into her hotel first, and you don't know where that hotel is? Or what if the Chrysler Building--a relatively easy landmark to spot--isn't her destination? What if it is in the middle of Central Park? Or Yosemite? Or down a river?

Take a minute to attempt to outline a chronological set of steps for getting to some location of your choosing that is not in a well-developed and populated area.

How is going? Wouldn't it be easier to find a few obvious landmarks and place the location within view of them? If you tried to write the outline above, you have probably done so anyway--"Go about two miles. You'll go over a railroad bridge." To locate an object in this way is an example of spatial organization.

When employing Spatial Development, keep these things in mind:

  1. Keep it Simple. We have all gotten directions like this:
    "Go down this road past the Dairy Queen and the Drug Store. You'll see a white house at the second light. Go past it to the one with the big bush in front of it that looks like Kennedy. It's right around there."
    Any particular drug store? Kennedy the President or Kennedy the VJ? Pick a few obvious features of the surrounding context and rely on them. Develop a few in detail, instead of developing a lot in lieu of detail.
  2. Be visual. Places and things are real, they are not abstractions. So use language that makes them real--specific, physical terms. Don't say "The big white house." Say "The white house with the green swingset in the yard." Don't say "It's down by the generator." Say "It's the red cannister with writing on it, that is down by the generator."
  3. Consider the familiarity of the audience with the subject, before you pick your references. If your audience member doesn't know what the generator looks like, "down by the generator" will be a pointless waste of time. If I send someone into Central Park's "Sheep Meadow" and he or she spends all day looking for sheep, I have done more harm than good. You might as well send me past the framus next to the doodad as tell me (as one enterprising survivalist once did), " go into the patch of red maples and keep Virgo on your right. You can't miss it."
  4. YOU CAN MISS IT. No matter how clearly a given physical relationship is defined, it will be possible in real time and space to mess it up. So if you have time locate the goal against more than one reference. I have been saved from geographical doom on many occasions by such information as "If you see the St. Mary's Catholic Church on the left, you've gone too far." or "On some models, they call it auxiliary. You will do no harm to the unit if you plug it in the wrong outlet, so if you can't find it just try a few."

    Sample Outline for Spatial Organization.

    Topic: How to Get to the Chrysler Building.
    General Purpose: To Inform.
    Specific Speech Purpose: The audience member will be able to find the Chrysler Building.
    Central Idea: The unique characteristics of the Chrysler Building are visible from many Manhattan locations.
    Main Idea I: The Chrysler Building is famous for the Art Deco adornments that crown it.
      A. The metal spire.
      B. The sunburst decoration.
      C. The eagles at the four corners.
    Main Idea II: You can see it from anywhere on Lexington Avenue.
      A. The view from Citicorp.
      B. The view from 34th street.
    Main Idea III: It is visible from most of 42nd Street.
      A. At the southeast corner of Grand Central Station.
      B. The view from Times Square.

    Discussion of Outline.

    Return to Clarity.