Posted by: George E Burney | March 21, 2012

Public Speaking: Why The Best Illustrations Are Drawn From Life

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Illustrations are among the best tools of a public speaker. They can make indelible impressions on the minds of listeners, while also making obscure and difficult points crystal clear.

Where can they be found? In everyday life. While they do not necessarily have to reflect actual events, they have to involve situations or occurrences which could be true. Otherwise, the audience may reject both the illustration and the point you’re using it to make.

Illustrations are also very versatile. One illustration can be used to make several different points. As an example, take this real-life experience I once had.

I was one of several passengers in a car driven by an inexperienced teenager. To get to the beach, we had to follow a wagon trail through the woods. At one point. we came upon a tree, directly ahead. The trail split into two, with one branch going around the tree to the left, and one to the right. They converged a few yards past the tree.

As we approached the tree, the driver called out, “Which way?” Simultaneously, one person shouted, “Left!” and another said, “Right!” Confused, the driver headed straight for the tree! Fortunately, we got him to stop. He then took one of the branches to get past the tree and we continued on our way.

What could this be used to illustrate? A number of points. For instance:

1. Be decisive … when sufficient facts are available, make a decision.

2.  Where two courses are likely to be equally effective, choose one.

3. Don’t seek a perfect decision.

4. Requiring 100% agreement before making decisions can paralyze a group.

No doubt, other lessons could be drawn from this ordinary incident. The same is true of the thousands of incidents just like it that occur every day. With sufficient thought, we can use them to emphasize and clarify important points.

We can find material for illustrations everywhere, because good illustrations are taken from life, or are at least true to life.

For a more detailed discussion of illustrations, please see my recently published eBook, entitled Creating and Using  Stories, Examples, and Illustrations in Public Speaking. For more information, click here:


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