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Dec. 2009 - Supporting the Talk: Examples—Guidelines for their Use

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John Kline, PhD, inspirational and motivational keynote and after-dinner speaker and corporate trainer.December 2009

Supporting the Talk: Examples—Guidelines for their Use

Last month we discussed types of examples to use when giving a talk.  Here are eight words to keep in mind when using examples.

Representative.  By definition, a   n example is an item that represents a larger group.  If you select one of the best apples out of a barrel that contains both good and bad apples, you should not claim the apple to be an example of the kinds of apples in the barrel; all you could say is the selected apple represents the best apples in the barrel.

Clear.  Consider your group.  When talking to a group of senior citizens, it might be clear to say, “Remember when we watched the Viet Nam War from our living rooms?”  If the audience is a group of traditional college students, the example will be unclear to them.

Relevance.  Often, inexperienced speakers use stories they like or that are easy to tell, even if they don’t relate to the points they are trying to make.  Examples must be relevant; otherwise they confuse listeners.

Appropriate.  An example or story that is appropriate to motivate a group Army Rangers going into battle might be inappropriate for a mixed group of adolescents.  If you don’t know if an example is appropriate, it probably isn’t.

Interest.  Examples must hold the audience’s interest.  Representative, clear, relevant, appropriate examples may still be dull.  Keep it interesting.

Personalized.  Actual examples often hold attention because the details are real.  Good story tellers take fictitious examples and supply interesting details to make them appear real.  This practice holds audience attention.

Short.  Unless the example is very engaging, most audiences lose interest in long examples.  A three minute example is probably out of place in a ten to twelve minute talk.

Clustered.  Several short examples clustered together often help drive home a point.  To demonstrate the importance of perseverance, a speaker might say, “Edison tried over 6000 different elements before he invented a successful incandescent light bulb, Michelangelo kept on painting even when the College of Cardinals thought he should quit, and Lindberg did not give up in his quest to cross the Atlantic.  Perseverance is key to success.”

Examples are crucial to good speaking and writing; remember these eight words to ensure you use them to your best advantage.
John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2006 - Motivating Others: Communicate Clearly
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