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Every day, all around the country, people give speeches that contain generalities and vagueness. Students on your campus might claim that local policies are biased against students, but may not explain why. Politicians may make claims in their speeches about “family values” without defining what those values are or throw out statistics without giving credit to where they found those numbers. Indeed, the nonpartisan websites FactCheck.org and Politifact.com are dedicated to investigating and dispelling the claims that politicians make in their speeches.
In this chapter, we explore the nature of supporting ideas in public speaking and why support is essential to effective presentations. We will then discuss how to use support to build stronger arguments within a speech.
In public speaking, the word “supportThe range of strategies a public speaker can use to develop the central idea and specific purpose by providing corroborating evidence.” refers to a range of strategies that are used to develop the central idea and specific purpose by providing corroborating evidence. Whether you are speaking to inform, persuade, or entertain, using support helps you create a more substantive and polished speech. We sometimes use the words “support” or “evidence” synonymously or interchangeably because both are designed to help ground a speech’s specific purpose. However, “evidence” tends to be associated specifically with persuasive speeches, so we opt to use the more general term “support” for most of this chapter. In this section, we are going to explore why speakers use support.
Speakers use support to help provide a foundation for their message. You can think of support as the legs on a table. Without the legs, the table becomes a slab of wood or glass lying on the ground; as such, it cannot fully serve the purpose of a table. In the same way, without support, a speech is nothing more than fluff. Audience members may ignore the speech’s message, dismissing it as just so much hot air. In addition to being the foundation that a speech stands on, support also helps us clarify content, increase speaker credibility, and make the speech more vivid.
The first reason to use support in a speech is to clarify content. Speakers often choose a piece of support because a previous writer or speaker has phrased something in a way that evokes a clear mental picture of the point they want to make. For example, suppose you’re preparing a speech about hazing in college fraternities. You may read your school’s code of student conduct to find out how your campus defines hazing. You could use this definition to make sure your audience understands what hazing is and what types of behaviors your campus identifies as hazing.
Another important reason to use support is because it adds to your credibility as a speaker. The less an audience perceives you as an expert on a given topic, the more important it is to use a range of support. By doing so, you let your audience know that you’ve done your homework on the topic.
At the same time, you could hurt your credibility if you use inadequate support or support from questionable sources. Your credibility will also suffer if you distort the intent of a source to try to force it to support a point that the previous author did not address. For example, the famous 1798 publication by Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, has been used as support for various arguments far beyond what Malthus could have intended. Malthus’s thesis was that as the human population increases at a greater rate than food production, societies will go to war over scarce food resources.Malthus, T. R. (1798). An essay on the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of society, with remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers. London, England: J. Johnson, in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Some modern writers have suggested that, according to the Malthusian line of thinking, almost anything that leads to a food shortage could lead to nuclear war. For example, better health care leads to longer life spans, which leads to an increased need for food, leading to food shortages, which lead to nuclear war. Clearly, this argument makes some giant leaps of logic that would be hard for an audience to accept.
For this reason, it is important to evaluate your support to ensure that it will not detract from your credibility as a speaker. Here are four characteristics to evaluate when looking at support options: accuracy, authority, currency, and objectivity.
One of the quickest ways to lose credibility in the eyes of your audience is to use support that is inaccurate or even questionably accurate. Admittedly, determining the accuracy of support can be difficult if you are not an expert in a given area, but here are some questions to ask yourself to help assess a source’s accuracy:
One of this book’s authors recently observed a speech in which a student said, “The amount of pollution produced by using paper towels instead of hand dryers is equivalent to driving a car from the east coast to St. Louis.” The other students in the class, as well as the instructor, recognized that this information sounded wrong and asked questions about the information source, the amount of time it would take to produce this much pollution, and the number of hand dryers used. The audience demonstrated strong listening skills by questioning the information, but the speaker lost credibility by being unable to answer their questions.
The second way to use support in building your credibility is to cite authoritative sources—those who are experts on the topic. In today’s world, there are all kinds of people who call themselves “experts” on a range of topics. There are even books that tell you how to get people to regard you as an expert in a given industry.See, for example, Lizotte, K. (2007). The expert’s edge: Become the go-to authority people turn to every time. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Today there are “experts” on every street corner or website spouting off information that some listeners will view as legitimate.
So what truly makes someone an expert? Bruce D. Weinstein, a professor at West Virginia University’s Center for Health Ethics and Law, defined expertiseKnowledge in or about a particular field or domains of demonstrable skills. as having two senses. In his definition, the first sense of expertise is “knowledge in or about a particular field, and statements about it generally take the form, ‘S is an expert in or about D.’… The second sense of expertise refers to domains of demonstrable skills, and statements about it generally take the form, ‘S is an expert at skill D.’”Weinstein, B. D. (1993). What is an expert? Theoretical Medicine, 14, 57–93. Thus, to be an expert, someone needs to have considerable knowledge on a topic or considerable skill in accomplishing something.
As a novice researcher, how can you determine whether an individual is truly an expert? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way to wade through the masses of “experts” and determine each one’s legitimacy quickly. However, Table 8.1 "Who Is an Expert?" presents a list of questions based on the research of Marie-Line Germain that you can ask yourself to help determine whether someone is an expert.Germain, M. L. (2006). Development and preliminary validation of a psychometric measure of expertise: The generalized expertise measure (GEM). (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Barry University, Florida.
Table 8.1 Who Is an Expert?
|Questions to Ask Yourself||Yes||No|
|1. Is the person widely recognizable as an expert?|
|2. Does the person have an appropriate degree/training/certification to make her or him an expert?|
|3. Is the person a member of a recognized profession in her or his claimed area of expertise?|
|4. Has the person published articles or books (not self-published) on the claimed area of expertise?|
|5. Does the person have appropriate experience in her or his claimed area of expertise?|
|6. Does the person have clear knowledge about her or his claimed area of expertise?|
|7. Is the person clearly knowledgeable about the field related to her or his claimed area of expertise?|
|8. When all is said and done, does the person truly have the qualifications to be considered an expert in her or his claimed area of expertise?|
You don’t have to answer “yes” to all the preceding questions to conclude that a source is credible, but a string of “no” answers should be a warning signal. In a Columbia Journalism Review article, Allisa Quart raised the question of expert credibility regarding the sensitive subject of autism. Specifically, Quart questioned whether the celebrity spokesperson and autism advocate Jennifer McCarthy (http://www.generationrescue.org/) qualifies as an expert. Quart notes that McCarthy “insists that vaccines caused her son’s neurological disorder, a claim that has near-zero support in scientific literature.”Quart, A. (2010, July/August). The trouble with experts: The web allows us to question authority in new ways. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved from http://www.cjr.org Providing an opposing view is a widely read blog called Respectful Insolence (http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/), whose author is allegedly a surgeon/scientist who often speaks out about autism and “antivaccination lunacy.” Respectful Insolence received the 2008 Best Weblog Award from MedGagdet: The Internet Journal of Emerging Medical Technologies. We used the word “allegedly” when referring to the author of Respectful Insolence because as the website explains that the author’s name, Orac, is the “nom de blog of a (not so) humble pseudonymous surgeon/scientist with an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent’s posterior about his miscellaneous verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few will.”ScienceBlogs LLC (n.d.). Who (or what) is Orac? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/; see also http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/medicine/autism
When comparing the celebrity Jenny McCarthy to the blogger Orac, who do you think is the better expert? Were you able to answer “yes” to the questions in Table 8.1 "Who Is an Expert?" for both “experts”? If not, why not? Overall, determining the authority of support is clearly a complicated task, and one that you should spend time thinking about as you prepare the support for your speech.
The third consideration in using support to build your credibility is how current the information is. Some ideas stay fairly consistent over time, like the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the mathematical formula for finding the area of a circle, but other ideas change wildly in a short period of time, including ideas about technology, health treatments, and laws.
Although we never want to discount classic supporting information that has withstood the test of time, as a general rule for most topics, we recommend that information be less than five years old. Obviously, this is just a general guideline and can change depending on the topic. If you’re giving a speech on the history of mining in West Virginia, then you may use support from sources that are much older. However, if you’re discussing a medical topic, then your support information should probably be from the past five years or less. Some industries change even faster, so the best support may come from the past month. For example, if are speaking about advances in word processing, using information about Microsoft Word from 2003 would be woefully out-of-date because two upgrades have been released since 2003 (2007 and 2010). As a credible speaker, it is your responsibility to give your audience up-to-date information.
The last question you should ask yourself when examining support is whether the person or organization behind the information is objective or biased. BiasA predisposition or preconception of a topic that prevents impartiality. refers to a predisposition or preconception of a topic that prevents impartiality. Although there is a certain logic to the view that every one of us is innately biased, as a credible speaker, you want to avoid just passing along someone’s unfounded bias in your speech. Ideally you would use support that is unbiased; Table 8.2 "Is a Potential Source of Support Biased?" provides some questions to ask yourself when evaluating a potential piece of support to detect bias.
Table 8.2 Is a Potential Source of Support Biased?
|Questions to Ask Yourself||Yes||No|
|1. Does the source represent an individual’s, an organization’s, or another group’s viewpoint?|
|2. Does the source sound unfair in its judgment, either for or against a specific topic?|
|3. Does the source sound like personal prejudices, opinions, or thoughts?|
|4. Does the source exist only on a website (i.e., not in print or any other format)?|
|5. Is the information published or posted anonymously or pseudonymously?|
|6. Does the source have any political or financial interests related to the information being disseminated?|
|7. Does the source demonstrate any specific political orientation, religious affiliation, or other ideology?|
|8. Does the source’s viewpoint differ from all other information you’ve read?|
As with the questions in Table 8.1 "Who Is an Expert?" about expertise, you don’t have to have all “no” or “yes” responses to decide on bias. However, being aware of the possibility of bias and where your audience might see bias will help you to select the best possible support to include in your speech.
In addition to clarifying content and enhancing credibility, support helps make a speech more vivid. VividnessA speaker’s ability to present information in a striking, exciting manner. refers to a speaker’s ability to present information in a striking, exciting manner. The goal of vividness is to make your speech more memorable. One of the authors still remembers a vivid example from a student speech given several years ago. The student was speaking about the importance of wearing seat belts and stated that the impact from hitting a windshield at just twenty miles per hour without a seat belt would be equivalent to falling out of the window of their second-floor classroom and landing face-first on the pavement below. Because they were in that classroom several times each week, students were easily able to visualize the speaker’s analogy and it was successful at creating an image that is remembered years later. Support helps make your speech more interesting and memorable to an audience member.
Now that we’ve explained why support is important, let’s examine the various types of support that speakers often use within a speech: facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies.
As we discussed in Chapter 7 "Researching Your Speech", a fact is a truth that is arrived at through the scientific process. Speakers often support a point or specific purpose by citing facts that their audience may not know. A typical way to introduce a fact orally is “Did you know that…?”
Many of the facts that speakers cite are based on statistics. StatisticsThe mathematical subfield that gathers, analyzes, and makes inferences about collected data. is the mathematical subfield that gathers, analyzes, and makes inferences about collected data. Data can come in a wide range of forms—the number of people who buy a certain magazine, the average number of telephone calls made in a month, the incidence of a certain disease. Though few people realize it, much of our daily lives are governed by statistics. Everything from seat-belt laws, to the food we eat, to the amount of money public schools receive, to the medications you are prescribed are based on the collection and interpretation of numerical data.
It is important to realize that a public speaking textbook cannot begin to cover statistics in depth. If you plan to do statistical research yourself, or gain an understanding of the intricacies of such research, we strongly recommend taking a basic class in statistics or quantitative research methods. These courses will better prepare you to understand the various statistics you will encounter.
However, even without a background in statistics, finding useful statistical information related to your topic is quite easy. Table 8.3 "Statistics-Oriented Websites" provides a list of some websites where you can find a range of statistical information that may be useful for your speeches.
Table 8.3 Statistics-Oriented Websites
|Website||Type of Information|
|http://www.bls.gov/bls/other.htm||Bureau of Labor Statistics provides links to a range of websites for labor issues related to a vast range of countries.|
|http://www.fedstats.gov||Federal Stats provides information on the US federal government.|
|http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov||Bureau of Justice Statistics provides information on crime statistics in the United States.|
|http://www.census.gov||US Census Bureau provides a wide range of information about people living in the United States.|
|http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/datawh.htm||National Center for Health Statistics is a program conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It provides information on a range of health issues in the United States.|
|http://www.stats.org||STATS is a nonprofit organization that helps people understand quantitative data. It also provides a range of data on its website.|
|http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu||Roper Center for Public Opinion provides data related to a range of issues in the United States.|
|http://www.nielsen.com||Nielsen provides data on consumer use of various media forms.|
|http://www.gallup.com||Gallup provides public opinion data on a range of social and political issues in the United States and around the world.|
|http://www.adherents.com||Adherents provides both domestic and international data related to religious affiliation.|
|http://people-press.org||Pew Research Center provides public opinion data on a range of social and political issues in the United States and around the world.|
Statistics are probably the most used—and misused—form of support in any type of speaking. People like numbers. People are impressed by numbers. However, most people do not know how to correctly interpret numbers. Unfortunately, there are many speakers who do not know how to interpret them either or who intentionally manipulate them to mislead their listeners. As the saying popularized by Mark Twain goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”Twain, M. (1924). Autobiography (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Harper & Bros., p. 538.
To avoid misusing statistics when you speak in public, do three things. First, be honest with yourself and your audience. If you are distorting a statistic or leaving out other statistics that contradict your point, you are not living up to the level of honesty your audience is entitled to expect. Second, run a few basic calculations to see if a statistic is believable. Sometimes a source may contain a mistake—for example, a decimal point may be in the wrong place or a verbal expression like “increased by 50 percent” may conflict with data showing an increase of 100 percent. Third, evaluate sources (even those in Table 8.3 "Statistics-Oriented Websites", which are generally reputable) according to the criteria discussed earlier in the chapter: accuracy, authority, currency, and objectivity.
Imagine that you gave a speech about the use of presidential veto and your audience did not know the meaning of the word “veto.” In order for your speech to be effective, you would need to define what a veto is and what it does. Making sure everyone is “on the same page” is a fundamental task of any communication. As speakers, we often need to clearly define what we are talking about to make sure that our audience understands our meaning. The goal of a definition is to help speakers communicate a word or idea in a manner that makes it understandable for their audiences. For the purposes of public speaking, there are four different types of definitions that may be used as support: lexical, persuasive, stipulative, and theoretical.
A lexical definition“Dictionary” definition that specifically states how a word is used within a specific language. is one that specifically states how a word is used within a specific language. For example, if you go to Dictionary.com and type in the word “speech,” here is the lexical definition you will receive:
Lexical definitions are useful when a word may be unfamiliar to an audience and you want to ensure that the audience has a basic understanding of the word. However, our ability to understand lexical definitions often hinges on our knowledge of other words that are used in the definition, so it is usually a good idea to follow a lexical definition with a clear explanation of what it means in your own words.
Persuasive definitionsDefinition designed to persuade an audience into thinking in a specific manner about the word or term. are designed to motivate an audience to think in a specific manner about the word or term. Political figures are often very good at defining terms in a way that are persuasive. Frank Luntz, a linguist and political strategist, is widely regarded as one of the most effective creators of persuasive definitions.Luntz, F. (2007). Words that work: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. New York, NY: Hyperion. Luntz has the ability to take terms that people don’t like and repackage them into persuasive definitions that give the original term a much more positive feel. Here are some of Luntz’s more famous persuasive definitions:
Luntz has essentially defined the terms in a new way that has a clear political bent and that may make the term more acceptable to some audiences, especially those who do not question the lexical meaning of the new term. For example, “oil drilling” may have negative connotations among citizens who are concerned about the environmental impact of drilling, whereas “energy exploration” may have much more positive connotations among the same group.
A stipulative definitionDefinition given to a word or term the first time that word or term is coined by someone. is a definition assigned to a word or term by the person who coins that word or term for the first time. In 1969, Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull wrote a book called The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. In this book, they defined the “Peter Principle” as “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His [sic] Level of Incompetence.”Peter, L. J., & Hull, R. (1969). The Peter principle: Why things always go wrong. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, p. 15. Because Peter and Hull coined the term “Peter Principle,” it was up to them to define the term as they saw fit. You cannot argue with this definition; it simply is the definition that was stipulated.
Theoretical definitionsDefinition used to describe all parts related to a particular type idea or object. are used to describe all parts related to a particular type of idea or object. Admittedly, these definitions are frequently ambiguous and difficult to fully comprehend. For example, if you attempted to define the word “peace” in a manner that could be used to describe all aspects of peace, then you would be using a theoretical definition. These definitions are considered theoretical because the definitions attempt to create an all-encompassing theory of the word itself.
In an interpersonal communication course, one of our coauthors asked a group of random people online to define the term “falling in love.” Here are some of the theoretical definitions they provided:
I think falling in love would be the act of feeling attracted to a person, with mutual respect given to each other, a strong desire to be close and near a person,…and more.
Being content with the person you are with and missing them every minute they are gone.
Um…falling in love is finding a guy with lots of credit cards and no balances owing.
Falling in love is when you take away the feeling, the passion, and the romance in a relationship and find out you still care for that person.
Meeting someone who makes your heart sing.
Skydiving for someone’s lips.
Definitions are important to provide clarity for your audience. Effective speakers strike a balance between using definitions where they are needed to increase audience understanding and leaving out definitions of terms that the audience is likely to know. For example, you may need to define what a “claw hammer” is when speaking to a group of Cub Scouts learning about basic tools, but you would appear foolish—or even condescending—if you defined it in a speech to a group of carpenters who use claw hammers every day. On the other hand, just assuming that others know the terms you are using can lead to ineffective communication as well. Medical doctors are often criticized for using technical terms while talking to their patients without taking time to define those terms. Patients may then walk away not really understanding what their health situation is or what needs to be done about it.
Another often-used type of support is examples. An example is a specific situation, problem, or story designed to help illustrate a principle, method, or phenomenon. Examples are useful because they can help make an abstract idea more concrete for an audience by providing a specific case. Let’s examine four common types of examples used as support: positive, negative, nonexamples, and best examples.
A positive exampleForm of example used to clarify or clearly illustrate a principle, method, or phenomenon. is used to clarify or clearly illustrate a principle, method, or phenomenon. A speaker discussing crisis management could talk about how a local politician handled herself when a local newspaper reported that her husband was having an affair or give an example of a professional baseball player who immediately came clean about steroid use. These examples would provide a positive model for how a corporation in the first instance, and an individual in the second instance, should behave in crisis management. The purpose of a positive example is to show a desirable solution, decision, or course of action.
Negative examplesForm of example used to illustrate how people should not behave., by contrast, are used to illustrate what not to do. On the same theme of crisis management, a speaker could discuss the lack of communication from Union Carbide during the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal, India, or the many problems with how the US government responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The purpose of a negative example is to show an undesirable solution, decision, or course of action.
A nonexampleForm of example used to explain what something is not. is used to explain what something is not. On the subject of crisis management, you might mention a press release for a new Adobe Acrobat software upgrade as an example of corporate communication that is not crisis management. The press release nonexample helps the audience differentiate between crisis management and other forms of corporate communication.
The final type of example is called the best exampleForm of example used to explain the best way someone should behave within a specific context. because it is held up as the “best” way someone should behave within a specific context. On the crisis management theme, a speaker could show a clip of an effective CEO speaking during a press conference to show how one should behave both verbally and nonverbally during a crisis. While positive examples show appropriate ways to behave, best examples illustrate the best way to behave in a specific context.
Although examples can be very effective at helping an audience to understand abstract or unfamiliar concepts, they do have one major drawback: some audience members may dismiss them as unusual cases that do not represent what happens most of the time. For example, some opponents of wearing seat belts claim that not wearing your seat belt can help you be thrown from a car and save you from fire or other hazards in the wrecked automobile. Even if a speaker has a specific example of an accident where this was true, many audience members would see this example as a rare case and thus not view it as strong support.
Simply finding an example to use, then, is not enough. An effective speaker needs to consider how the audience will respond to the example and how the example fits with what else the audience knows, as discussed under the heading of accuracy earlier in this chapter.
A fourth form of support are narrativesAn illustrative story or extended example with a clear beginning, middle, and end., or stories that help an audience understand the speaker’s message. Narratives are similar to examples except that narratives are generally longer and take on the form of a story with a clear arc (beginning, middle, and end). People like stories. In fact, narratives are so important that communication scholar Walter Fisher believes humans are innately storytelling animals, so appealing to people through stories is a great way to support one’s speech.Fisher, W. R. (1987). Human communication as narration: Toward a philosophy of reason, value, and action. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
However, you have an ethical responsibility as a speaker to clearly identify whether the narrative you are sharing is real or hypothetical. In 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her story of an eight-year-old heroin addict.Cooke, J. (1980, September 28). Jimmy’s world. The Washington Post, p. A1. After acknowledging that her story was a fake, she lost her job and the prize was rescinded.Green, B. (1981, April 19). The confession: At the end, there were the questions, then the tears. The Washington Post, p. A14. In 2009, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave a nationally televised speech where he recounted a story of his interaction with a local sheriff in getting help for Hurricane Katrina victims. His story was later found to be false; Jindal admitted that he had heard the sheriff tell the story after it happened but he had not really been present at the time.Finch, S. (2009, Feb 27). Bobby Jindal’s fishy Katrina story. Daily Kos. Retrieved from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/02/27/702671/-Bobby-Jindals-Fishy-Katrina-Story
Obviously, we are advocating that you select narratives that are truthful when you use this form of support in a speech. Clella Jaffe explains that narratives are a fundamental part of public speaking and that narratives can be used for support in all three general purposes of speaking: informative, persuasive, and entertaining. Jaffe, C. (2010). Public speaking: Concepts and skills for a diverse society (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage.
Jaffe defines informative narrativesType of narrative used to provide information or explanations about a speaker’s topic. as those that provide information or explanations about a speaker’s topic.Jaffe, C. (2010). Public speaking: Concepts and skills for a diverse society (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage. Informative narratives can help audiences understand nature and natural phenomena, for example. Often the most complicated science and mathematical issues in our world can be understood through the use of story. While many people may not know all the mathematics behind gravity, most of us have grown up with the story of how Sir Isaac Newton was hit on the head by an apple and developed the theory of gravity. Even if the story is not precisely accurate, it serves as a way to help people grasp the basic concept of gravity.
Persuasive narrativesType of narrative used to persuade people to accept or reject a specific attitude, value, belief, or behavior. are stories used to persuade people to accept or reject a specific attitude, value, belief, or behavior. Religious texts are filled with persuasive narratives designed to teach followers various attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors. Parables or fables are designed to teach people basic lessons about life. For example, read the following fable from Aesop (http://www.aesopfables.com): “One winter a farmer found a snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. ‘Oh,’ cried the Farmer with his last breath, ‘I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.’” This persuasive narrative is designed to warn people that just because you help someone in need doesn’t mean the other person will respond in kind.
Entertaining narrativesType of narrative designed purely to delight an audience and transport them from their daily concerns. are stories designed purely to delight an audience and transport them from their daily concerns. Some professional speakers make a very good career by telling their own stories of success or how they overcame life’s adversities. Comedians such as Jeff Foxworthy tell stories that are ostensibly about their own lives in a manner designed to make the audience laugh. While entertaining narratives may be a lot of fun, people should use them sparingly as support for a more serious topic or for a traditional informative or persuasive speech.
Another form of support you may employ during a speech is testimony. When we use the word “testimony” in this text, we are specifically referring to expert opinion or direct accounts of witnesses to provide support for your speech. Notice that within this definition, we refer to both expert and eyewitness testimony.
Expert testimony accompanies the discussion we had earlier in this chapter related to what qualifies someone as an expert. In essence, expert testimonyAccount relating the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors of someone who is recognized as an expert on a given topic. expresses the attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors recommended by someone who is an acknowledged expert on a topic. For example, imagine that you’re going to give a speech on why physical education should be mandatory for all grades K–12 in public schools. During the course of your research, you come across The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Fit and Healthy Nation (http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/obesityvision/obesityvision2010.pdf). You might decide to cite information from within the report written by US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin about her strategies for combating the problem of childhood obesity within the United States. If so, you are using the words from Dr. Benjamin, as a noted expert on the subject, to support your speech’s basic premise. Her expertise is being used to give credibility to your claims.
Eyewitness testimonyAccount given by someone who has direct contact with the phenomenon of your speech topic., on the other hand, is given by someone who has direct contact with the phenomenon of your speech topic. Imagine that you are giving a speech on the effects of the 2010 “Deepwater Horizon” disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps one of your friends happened to be on a flight that passed over the Gulf of Mexico and the pilot pointed out where the platform was. You could tell your listeners about your friend’s testimony of what she saw as she was flying over the spill.
However, using eyewitness testimony as support can be a little tricky because you are relying on someone’s firsthand account, and firsthand accounts may not always be reliable. As such, you evaluate the credibility of your witness and the recency of the testimony.
To evaluate your witness’s credibility, you should first consider how you received the testimony. Did you ask the person for the testimony, or did he or she give you the information without being asked? Second, consider whether your witness has anything to gain from his or her testimony. Basically, you want to know that your witness isn’t biased.
Second, consider whether your witness’ account was recent or something that happened some time ago. With a situation like the BP oil spill, the date when the spill was seen from the air makes a big difference. If the witness saw the oil spill when the oil was still localized, he or she could not have seen the eventual scope of the disaster.
Overall, the more detail you can give about the witness and when the witness made his or her observation, the more useful that witness testimony will be when attempting to create a solid argument. However, never rely completely on eyewitness testimony because this form of support is not always the most reliable and may still be perceived as biased by a segment of your audience.
An analogy is a figure of speech that compares two ideas or objects, showing how they are similar in some way. Analogies, for public speaking purposes, can also be based in logic. The logical notion of analogies starts with the idea that two ideas or objects are similar, and because of this similarity, the two ideas or objects must be similar in other ways as well. There are two different types of analogies that speakers can employ: figurative and literal.
Figurative analogiesComparison between two ideas or objects from two different classes. compare two ideas or objects from two different classes. For the purposes of understanding analogies, a “class” refers to a group that has common attributes, characteristics, qualities, or traits. For example, you can compare a new airplane to an eagle. In this case, airplanes and eagles clearly are not the same type of objects. While both may have the ability to fly, airplanes are made by humans and eagles exist in nature.
Alternatively, you could attempt to compare ideas such as the struggle of The Church of Reality (http://www.churchofreality.org/wisdom/welcome_home/, a group that sees the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament) to the struggle of the civil rights movement. Is a church’s attempt to get marijuana legalized truly the same as the 1960s civil rights movement? Probably not, in most people’s view, as fighting for human rights is not typically seen as equivalent to being able to use a controlled substance.
Figurative analogies are innately problematic because people often hear them and immediately dismiss them as far-fetched. While figurative analogies may be very vivid and help a listener create a mental picture, they do not really help a listener determine the validity of the information being presented. Furthermore, speakers often overly rely on figurative analogies when they really don’t have any other solid evidence. Overall, while figurative analogies may be useful, we recommend solidifying them with other, more tangible support.
Literal analogiesComparison between two objects or ideas that clearly belong to the same class., on the other hand, compare two objects or ideas that clearly belong to the same class. The goal of the literal analogy is to demonstrate that the two objects or ideas are similar; therefore, they should have further similarities that support your argument. For example, maybe you’re giving a speech on a new fast-food brand that you think will be a great investment. You could easily compare that new fast-food brand to preexisting brands like McDonald’s, Subway, or Taco Bell. If you can show that the new start-up brand functions similarly to other brands, you can use that logic to suggest that the new brand will also have the same kind of success as the existing brands.
When using literal analogies related to ideas, make sure that the ideas are closely related and can be viewed as similar. For example, take the Church of Reality discussed in Section 8 "Expert Testimony". You could compare the Church of Reality’s use of marijuana to the Native American Church’s legal exemption to use peyote in its religious practices. In this instance, comparing two different religious groups’ use of illegal drugs and demonstrating that one has legal exemption supports the idea that the other should have an exemption, too.
As with figurative analogies, make sure that the audience can see a reasonable connection between the two ideas or objects being compared. If your audience sees your new fast-food brand as very different from McDonald’s or Subway, then they will not accept your analogy. You are basically asking your audience to confirm the logic of your comparison, so if they don’t see the comparison as valid, it won’t help to support your message.
Supporting one’s ideas with a range of facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies can make the difference between a boring speech your audience will soon forget and one that has a lasting effect on their lives.
Although the research process is designed to help you find effective support, you still need to think through how you will use the support you have accumulated. In this section, we will examine how to use support effectively in one’s speech, first by examining the types of support one needs in a speech and then by seeing how support can be used to enhance one’s argument.
You may associate the word “argument” with a situation in which two people are having some kind of conflict. But in this context we are using a definition for the word argumentA set of logical premises leading to a clear conclusion. that goes back to the ancient Greeks, who saw arguments as a set of logical premises leading to a clear conclusion. While we lack the time for an entire treatise on the nature and study of arguments, we do want to highlight some of the basic principles in argumentation.
First, all arguments are based on a series of statements that are divided into two basic categories: premises and conclusions. A premisePart of an argument represented by a statement or series of statements designed to provide support or evidence for a conclusion. is a statement that is designed to provide support or evidence, whereas the conclusionPart of an argument represented that can be clearly or logically drawn from the provided premises. is a statement that can be clearly drawn from the provided premises. Let’s look at an example and then explain this in more detail:
Premise 1: Eating fast food has been linked to childhood obesity.
Premise 2: Childhood obesity is clearly linked to early onset type 2 diabetes, which can have many negative health ramifications.
Conclusion: Therefore, for children to avoid developing early onset type 2 diabetes, they must have their fast-food intake limited.
In this example, the first two statements are premises linking fast food to childhood obesity to diabetes. Once we’ve made this logical connection, we can then provide a logical conclusion that one important way of preventing type 2 diabetes is to limit, if not eliminate, fast food from children’s diets. While this may not necessary be a popular notion for many people, the argument itself is logically sound.
How, then, does this ultimately matter for you and your future public speaking endeavors? Well, a great deal of persuasive speaking is built on creating arguments that your listeners can understand and that will eventually influence their ideas or behaviors. In essence, creating strong arguments is a fundamental part of public speaking.
Now, in the example above, we are clearly missing one important part of the argument process—support or evidence. So far we have presented two premises that many people may believe, but we need support or evidence for those premises if we are going to persuade people who do not already believe those statements. As such, when creating logical arguments (unless you are a noted expert on a subject), you must provide support to ensure that your arguments will be seen as credible. And that is what we will discuss next.
When researching a topic, you’re going to find a range of different types of supporting evidence. You may find examples of all six types of support: facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies. Sooner or later, you are going to have to make some decisions as to which pieces of support you will use and which you won’t. While there is no one way to select your support, here are some helpful suggestions.
One of the most important parts of using support is variety. Nothing will kill a speech faster than if you use the same type of support over and over again. Try to use as much support as needed to make your point without going overboard. You might decide to begin with a couple of definitions and rely on a gripping piece of eyewitness testimony as your other major support. Or you might use a combination of facts, examples, and narratives. In another case, statistics and examples might be most effective. Audience members are likely to have different preferences for support; some may like statistics while others really find narratives compelling. By using a variety of forms of support, you are likely to appeal to a broader range of audience members and thus effectively adapt to your audience. Even if your audience members prefer a specific form of support, providing multiple types of support is important to keep them interested. To use an analogy, even people who love ice cream would get tired of it if they ate only ice cream every day for a week, so variety is important.
Depending on the type of speech you are giving, your speech’s context, and your audience, different types of evidence may or may not be appropriate. While speeches using precise lexical definitions may be useful for the courtroom, they may not be useful in an after-dinner speech to entertain. At the same time, entertaining narratives may be great for a speech whose general purpose is to entertain, but may decrease a speaker’s credibility when attempting to persuade an audience about a serious topic.
Another consideration about potential support is whether or not it is relevant. Each piece of supporting material you select needs to support the specific purpose of your speech. You may find the coolest quotation, but if that quotation doesn’t really help your core argument in your speech, you need to leave it out. If you start using too many irrelevant support sources, your audience will quickly catch on and your credibility will drop through the floor.
Your support materials should be relevant not only to your topic but also to your audience. If you are giving a speech to an audience of sixty-year-olds, you may be able to begin with “Think back to where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot,” but this would be meaningless with an audience of twenty-five-year-olds. Similarly, references to music download sites or the latest popular band may not be effective with audiences who are not interested in music.
In addition to being relevant, supporting materials need to help you support your speech’s specific purpose without interfering with your speech. You may find three different sources that support your speech’s purpose in the same way. If that happens, you shouldn’t include all three forms of support. Instead, pick the form of support that is the most beneficial for your speech. Remember, the goal is to support your speech, not to have the support become your speech.
The last factor related to shifting through your support involves a very important ethical area called support-manipulationThe unethical practice of finding and using support designed to enhance one’s argument in a devious manner.. Often speakers will attempt to find support that says exactly what they want it to say despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of evidence says the exact opposite. When you go out of your way to pull the wool over your audience’s eyes, you are being unethical and not treating your audience with respect. Here are some very important guidelines to consider to avoiding support-manipulation:
Now that we’ve described ways to sift through your evidence, it’s important to discuss how to use your evidence within your speech. In the previous sections of this chapter, we’ve talked about the various types of support you can use (facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimonies, and analogies). In this section, we’re going to examine how these types of evidence are actually used within a speech. Then we will discuss ways to think through the support you need for a speech and also how to actually use support while speaking.
Let’s begin by examining the forms that support can take in a speech: quotations, paraphrases, summaries, numerical support, and pictographic support.
The first common form of support utilized in a speech is direct quotation. Direct quotationsRepeating the exact wording of another speaker or writer within a speech. occur when Speaker A uses the exact wording by another speaker or writer within his or her new speech. Quotations are very helpful and can definitely provide you a tool for supporting your speech’s specific purpose. Here are five tips for using quotations within a speech:
The second form support takes on during a speech is paraphrasing. ParaphrasingTaking the central idea or theme from another speaker or author and adapting it in one’s own words. involves taking the general idea or theme from another speaker or author and condensing the idea or theme in your own words. As we described in Chapter 7 "Researching Your Speech", a mistake that some speakers make is dropping a couple of words or rearranging some words within a direct quotation and thinking that is a paraphrase. When paraphrasing you need to understand the other speaker or author’s ideas well enough to relate them without looking back at the original. Here are four tips for using paraphrases in your speeches:
Whereas quotations and paraphrases are taking a whole text and singling out a couple of lines or a section, a summaryAn encapsulation or condensation of the entire text from another speaker or author. involves condensing or encapsulating the entire text as a form of support. Summaries are helpful when you want to clearly spell out the intent behind a speaker’s or author’s text. Here are three suggestions for using summaries within your speech.
Speakers often have a need to use numerical supportThe use of numbers, data, or statistics within a speech to support a point., or citing data and numbers within a speech. The most common reason for using numerical support comes when a speaker needs to cite statistics. When using data to support your speech, you need to make sure that your audience can accurately interpret the numbers in the same way you are doing. Here are three tips for using numerical support:
The last form of support commonly used in speeches we label pictographic support, but it is more commonly referred to as visual aids. Pictographic supportPhotographic, diagrammatic, or other visual representation of an object or process. is any drawn or visual representation of an object or process. For the purposes of this chapter, we call visual aids pictographic support in order to stress that we are using images as a form of support taken from a source. For example, if you’re giving a speech on how to swing a golf club, you could bring in a golf club and demonstrate exactly how to use the golf club. While the golf club in this instance is a visual aid, it is not pictographic support. If you showed a diagram illustrating the steps for an effective golf swing, the diagram is an example of pictographic support. So while all forms of pictographic support are visual aids, not all visual aids are pictographic support. Here are five suggestions for effectively using pictographic support in your speech.
Now that we’ve examined the ways to use support in your speech, how do you know if you have enough support?
One recommendation we have for selecting the appropriate support for your speech is what we call a reverse outline. A reverse outlineTool used to determine the adequacy of support by starting with a speaker’s conclusion and logically working backward through the speech to determine if the support provided is appropriate and comprehensive. is a tool you can use to determine the adequacy of your speech’s support by starting with your conclusion and logically working backward through your speech to determine if the support you provided is appropriate and comprehensive. In essence, we recommend that you think of your speech in terms of the conclusion first and then work your way backward showing how you get to the conclusion. By forcing yourself to think about logic in reverse, you’re more likely to find missteps along the way. This technique is not only helpful for analyzing the overall flow of your speech, but it can also let you see if different sections of your speech are not completely supported individually.
When selecting the different types of support for your speech, you need to make sure that every claim you make within the speech can be supported within the speech. For example, if you state, “The majority of Americans want immigration reform,” you need to make sure that you have a source that actually says this. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, too often people make claims within a speech that they have no support for whatsoever. When you go through your speech, you need to make sure that each and every claim that you make is adequately supported by the evidence you have selected to use within the speech.
Finally, after you have selected and evaluated your forms of support, it is time to plan how you will present your support orally within your speech. How will you present the information to make it effective? To help you think about using support, we recommend a three-step process: setup, execution, and analysis.
The first step in using support within a speech is what we call the setup. The setupStep in the oral presentation of support process in which the speaker explains to the audience where the information being used came from. is a sentence or phrase in which you explain to your audience where the information you are using came from. Note that if you found the information on a website, it is not sufficient to merely give your audience the URL. Depending on the source of your support, all the following information could be useful: name of source, location of source, date of source, name of author, and identification of author. First, you need to tell your audience the name of your source. Whether you are using a song or an article from a magazine, you need to tell your audience the name of the person who wrote it and its title. Second, if your source comes from a larger work, you need to include the location of the source. For example, a single article (name of source) may come from a magazine (the location). Third, you need to specify the date of the source. Depending on the type of source you are using, you may need to provide just a year or the day and month as well. You should provide as much information on the date as is provided on the copyright information page of the source.
Thus far we’ve talked only about the information you need to provide specifically about the source; let’s now switch gears and talk about the author. When discussing the author, you need to clearly explain not only who the author is but also why the author is an expert (if appropriate). Some sources are written by authors who are not experts, so you really don’t need to explain their expertise. In other cases, your audience will already know why the source is an expert, so there is less need to explain why the source is an expert. For example, if giving a speech on current politics in the United States, you probably do not need to explain the expertise of Barack Obama or John Boehner. However, when you don’t provide information on an author’s expertise and your audience does not already know why the source is an expert, your audience will question the validity of your support.
Now that we’ve explained the basic information necessary for using support within a speech, here are two different examples:
In the first example we have an author who wrote an article in a magazine, and in the second one we have an author of a book. In both cases, we provided the information that was necessary to understand where the source was located. The more information we can provide our audiences about our support, the more information our audiences have to evaluate the strength of our arguments.
Once we have set up the support, the second part of using support is what we call execution. The executionStep in the oral presentation of support process in which the speaker delivers a quotation, paraphrase, or summary; provides numerical support; or shows pictographic support. of support involves actually reading a quotation, paraphrasing a speaker or author’s words, summarizing a speaker or author’s ideas, providing numerical support, or showing pictographic support. Effective execution should be seamless and flow easily within the context of your speech. While you want your evidence to make an impact, you also don’t want it to seem overly disjointed. One mistake that some novice public speakers make is that when they start providing evidence, their whole performance changes and the use of evidence looks and sounds awkward. Make sure you practice the execution of your evidence when you rehearse your speech.
The final stage of using support effectively is the one which many speakers forget: analysisStep in the oral presentation of support process in which the speaker explains to the audience how they should interpret the support provided. of the support. Too often speakers use support without ever explaining to an audience how they should interpret it. While we don’t want to “talk down” to our listeners, audiences often need to be shown the connection between the support provided and the argument made. Here are three basic steps you can take to ensure your audience will make the connection between your support and your argument:
While preparing a speech on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Aban runs across a website that has a lot of useful information. The website has numerous articles and links that all discuss the importance of the different functions of the DHS. Being a good speaker, Aban delves into the website to determine the credibility of the information being provided.
Aban quickly realizes that the group sponsoring the website is a fringe-militia group that believes no immigrants should be allowed into the United States. While the information Aban is interested has nothing to do with immigration, he wonders if all the information provided on the website has been distorted to support the organization’s basic cause.
Which of the following is not a potential source of bias that a speaker or author may have?
During a speech, Juanita says the following: “In his book The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams defines the Dilbert principle as the idea ‘that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.’” What type of definition is Juanita using?
Edward was delivering a speech on using the Internet for job hunting. In his speech he uses the example of his friend Barry, who was able to network using LinkedIn and other social networking sites to find his dream job. What type of example has Edward used?
Which of the following is not a potential form of support manipulation?
During her speech about rodents, Anna shows a series of slides explaining the lifecycle of chipmunks. What form of support has Anna used within her speech?