idea n. 1. Something, such as a thought or conception, that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity. 2. An opinion, a conviction, or a principle: has some strange political ideas. 3. A plan, scheme, or method. 4. The gist of a specific situation; significance: The idea is to finish the project on time and under budget. 5. A notion; a fancy. (American Heritage Dictionary)
Note that all the definitions rely on connecting with things with which the audience is familiar.
Genus/Differentia: Locate a category that the audience will recognize then locate the idea within that category. "A physician is a highly trained expert in physical health."
Comparison/Contrast: Draw comparison or contrast with some similar idea that the audience is familiar with. "A health care system should be designed to promote health not to cure illness like ours does now." [Note: the idea here is a preventive system of health care.]
By Example: Defines by locating an example of the idea with which the audience is familiar. "The Canadian health care system uses a board to define optimal treatment outcomes and then compares the performance of hospitals with that optimum. Thus, quality can be evaluated."
By Detail: Provides extensive information to fill out the understanding of the idea. "Most of my life deals with health care. My husband has Alzheimers and is in a nursing facility. My son has been hurt in a work accident and cannot take care of himself. His wife is currently in the hospital taking cancer treatment. I am the only support for all these people and my life savings is just about gone."
By Origin: Traces an idea chronologically to reveal something about its character. "Modern hospitals as storehouses of the sick grow out of the notion of institutionalizing the mentally ill to relieve families of their care."
Negatively: Locates an idea by what it is not. "This program is not socialism."
Operational: Describes how the idea would work, often in chronological detail. "With my voucher program you would go to the doctor and merely present the doctor with your voucher number before you receive treatment. The doctor would provide proof of your treatment that would be sent to you for your signature as a description of the health care you received."
These dimensions provide criteria by which you can evaluate the choices of strategies that speaker's select to define their ideas.
Identifiability: Can the general notion of the idea be grasped?
Clarity: Is the idea presented in a way that the audience can understand it?
Precision/ambiguity: Does the speaker wish to have the idea fully developed and understandable or open to the audience's adding their own details? Precise ideas leave little room for variation in how the audience understands them. Ambiguous ideas provide the audience with more opportunity to develop the idea into their own form.
Detail: Does the idea have depth or breadth of information? Typically, precision in ideas requires more depth and breadth of presentation.
Relationship to the audience's experience: Does the presentation relate to day-to-day experiences of the audience?
Listen carefully to the presentation of the idea. Often people skip this step. DO NOT!
Locate the center of the idea. Avoid the detail and just get the general notion. Often this means identifying the thesis of the presentation.
Relate the idea to your own experience. Try to see the speaker's effort to connect the idea with your experience.
Try to use your understanding of the idea. See if you understand the idea well enough that you can take it beyond the context of the speech and use it to make sense of something.
Compare your understanding to the context in the discourse. Ideas are in context in discourse. Look at other things the speaker says and see that your understanding of the idea is consistent with the other parts of context.
Query the speaker. If you have the opportunity ask questions to help to fill out the idea.
Relate your understanding to the speaker's point of view. Place your understanding in the context of what you know about the speaker. Up to this point you should have approached the analysis with full sympathy for the speaker. At this stage, you may ask yourself about the speaker's motives and the advantage to him/her of the idea.