Posted by: George E Burney | July 6, 2012

Public Speaking – To Develop Illustrations, Look For Parallels!

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An illustration is to a public speaker what a hammer or saw is to a carpenter.

Why Important

Concepts that are hard to grasp quickly become, when illustrated, easy for your audience to understand. This is because illustrations employ ideas that are understood universally, or by the majority of persons in your audience, to explain concepts which are not understood. This is done primarily by showing the parallels between the two.

The unspoken, underlying basis for the illustration is this: If such and such is true, and we all agree that it is, then it follows that this, that, and the other must also be true, since there are clear and obvious parallels between the two. If your audience agrees that the comparison is valid, your illustration has succeeded in its purpose.

To Illustrate

Suppose that you were speaking to a group of young adults about the benefits of patience and deferred gratification. Perhaps you were advocating that they not spend all of their income, but save or invest some of it. Since we all naturally desire to enjoy life to the fullest now, the idea of postponing the use of anything which could be enjoyed now might be a hard sell.

So, how could you illustrate the point that sometimes, waiting can be a brilliant decision? What sort of common situations, objects, or occurrences could be used to make the point sufficiently?

Since time is close to the heart of this matter, what things get much better with time? So much better, in fact, that it’s obviously wise to wait for them to mature? Or, in connection with what is impatience a fatal flaw? What things, which they are aware of, are always ruined by premature use? Whatever they are, they could form the basis for a telling illustration.

Look For Parallels

Since parallels are critically important in framing illustrations, a speaker should train himself to look for them. Where? Everywhere. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “What does this remind me of? What is this similar to? Why is it similar? What’s the connection or parallel?”

By doing so, we train ourselves to see parallels everywhere. These will later come to mind when we are searching for an illustration to make an important point in one of our presentations.

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


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