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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Examples must hold the audience’s interest. Representative, clear,
relevant, appropriate examples may still be dull. Keep it interesting.
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.
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.
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
Examples are crucial to good speaking and writing; remember these eight
words to ensure you use them to your best advantage.