You now know the main points you have to make in your speech. But you cannot stand up and say to the audience, “These are the main points I want to make.” Their answer would probably be “So what?” You need to explain or enlarge on these main ideas. You need to give your listeners additional information about each main point so that they understand what you mean and will believe what you say. That additional information is your supporting material. In other words, you have the skeleton or outline of a speech and now you have to add meat to the skeleton to make your ideas credible, interesting, and memorable. In this unit we will discuss how to support your ideas – the sort of material you need to look for, and where to find it.
Forms of Support
The term supporting materials refers to the information a person provides to develop and/or justify an idea that is offered for a listener’s consideration. Supporting materials serve a variety of functions in oral presentations: to clarify the speaker’s point, to emphasize the point, to make the point more interesting, and to furnish a basis that enables others to believe the speaker’s point. Without supporting materials, an oral presentation is little more than a string of assertions (claims without backing).
We have already noted that Support Material illustrates your assertions so the audience will understand the concepts and conclusions you are presenting. These are various forms of supporting materials:
Examples: Concrete instances. Visual is better. Make sure the audience understands or can relate to what the example is illustrating (3rd step)
Testimony (authority): direct quotations or paraphrases – using someone else’s knowledge/information and, thus, their credibility. Requires acknowledgement (oral citation).
Surveys: compilations of many people’s views, public opinion, quantitative. Be sure you understand what group the survey represents and who is the source of the survey.
Definition: clarification of unfamiliar terms and concepts [by example, by synonym, by classification].
Analogy: illustrating a concept by relating the unfamiliar to the familiar. Be sure the audience understands the points of similarity
Statistics: quantitative information. Good for establishing significance. Use round numbers if possible. “Humanize” large abstract numbers by linking them to something familiar.
Narration: stories. They are visual, personal and chronological. Highly concrete and memorable. Good for illustration; weak for proof.
Explanation (description/detail): describing an idea or concept in your own words. Most effective when highly visual (use lots of adjectives). Often overused.
Proof – getting the audience to accept your ideas, believe you, and be persuaded. There are three traditional types of proof:
Pathos – using emotions to get support
Ethos – using credibility to get support (either your own credibility or that of your sources)
Logos – using logic and evidence (support material) to prove you are correct and gain support.
General and Specific Guidelines for Supporting Material
General Guidelines for Supporting Materials
- Pertinence — Each piece of support should be clearly relevant to the point it is used to support.
- Variety — The presentation should not rely excessively on one type of support (such as examples) but should instead use a number of different forms of support.
- Amount — The presentation should include a sufficient amount of support (enough to make the ideas presented both clear and compelling to the audience).
- Detail — Each piece of support needs to be developed to the point that audience members can both understand the item of support AND can see how the item backs up the point it is used to support.
- Appropriateness — Each piece of supporting material should meet the demands that the audience and the occasion place on the kind of material that is likely to be received favorably. A “scholarly” audience, for example, will probably place higher demands on the speaker’s sources of information than a “general” audience would. A “graphic” description of a particular topic, while entirely fitting in some occasions, might be out of place in another.
Specific Guidelines for Supporting Materials
Supporting materials are usually offered in recurring forms. Depending upon the form of support provided, you should ask yourself some questions to determine if you are making the best possible use of that kind of material:
Is the example/narrative representative?
Is the example/narrative sufficiently detailed and vivid?
Is the example/narrative personalized?
If necessary, was the source cited in the speech?