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Putting Meat on the Bones


Supportive material is any information which will strengthen the points of the speech. It comes from many different sources and could include Scripture, illustrations, examples, research facts, transitional statements, and more. A variety of knowledge is a great benefit to a speaker. Therefore, thorough and diverse research is recommended.

In Principles of Speech Communication, Bruce Gronbeck and the other authors suggest that there are six pillars of supporting material.[1] These are sources of data which can be used to clarify, amplify, or justify the central ideas of the speech. They support the central theme or main idea. These different types of supporting materials include:

  1. Explanations – descriptions that make a term, concept, process, or proposal clear or acceptable. Example: To clarify a message about bearing spiritual fruit (John 15:1-8), describe the process of a gardener pruning her plants.
  2. Comparisons and Contrasts – verbal devices that point out similarities and differences. Example: Galatians 5:19-21 and 5:22-23 may be used to distinguish between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
  3. Illustrations and Narratives – detailed examples which describe a concept, condition, or circumstance. Example: The biblical account of the Samaritan Woman who met Jesus at the well may be used to illustrate the concept of forgiveness (John 4:1-26).
  4. Specific Instances – undeveloped illustrations or examples usually grouped into a list to drive the point home. Example: To emphasize the biblical truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, build on the descriptors such as He is Savior, Redeemer, Sustainer, Master, and King. He is Lord.
  5. Statistics – numbers that show relationships between or among different information which emphasize size, magnitude, or trends. Example: To support the statement that more than half of all women work outside the home, reference a documented report such as this finding of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, showing 59.2 percent of women in the United States are in the labor force.[2]
  6. Testimonies – citations of the opinions or conclusions of others which add weight or impressiveness to an idea. Example: To strengthen the message that prayer has power, cite author Jennifer Kennedy Dean in her book, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Results: “God’s specific and intervening power is released into circumstances and lives by prayer.”[3]

Illustrations from real life are ideal supportive material. L.P. Lehman discussed the nature of illustrations in his book, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations. He stated: “An illustration is a basic, identifiable, everyday idea in which a listener may find himself related to the speaker and to the message.”[4] It is literally a slice of life, which connects an audience and speaker. He compares a speech to a house and an illustration to a door: “A message without an illustration is like a house without a door.”[5] Descriptive examples are not simply extra features of a speech, they are literally the access to a speech. The audience has no way to enter the house or understand the speech without an entryway. Illustrations are essential to supportive material.

Information that is included as supportive material must be accurately reported and documented. Carol Kent provides these guidelines in Speak Up with Confidence:[6]

  • Be sure of the facts. Verify your numbers and details before speaking them aloud.
  • Don’t present a fictional story as if it were true. When you share another person’s story, give them credit over and over again.
  • Be certain the story fits your aim. Avoid using a story simply to have a story unless it is serving as an icebreaker at the beginning of your speech. The story should enhance the overall point being conveyed to the audience.
  • Get permission from family members or friends before sharing an illustration about them. It is important to ask permission before talking about someone else—permission not forgiveness.

I (Rhonda) love talking about my husband when I teach or speak. Because I love him, I want others to get to know him. Chuck knows when I have told stories about him in my student wives class because when the ladies see him on campus, they giggle. I love to share Chuck’s insights when I write because he is so wise and perceptive. I have tried to convince him that marriage means what is his is mine. So, I share his stories and write his insights, but I always give him credit.

  • When possible, give credit to the originator of the story or cite the source. It is best to give credit where credit is due and protect yourself in the meantime. Listeners will often pay more attention when you include an outside source.
  • Never use another speaker’s story if you are speaking in his or her territory. Be considerate of the source, allow her to share the story and receive credit. Using another person’s story in an area where she lives may cause confusion to those who know her or under mind the spirit of surprise when she tells it.
  • Adjust the length of the illustration to fit the time you have to speak. Include an introduction, body, and conclusion in your speech. Try not to let the illustration become the entire message. Connect it with the main theme and make its application, but don’t let it be the only memorable thing about your presentation.
  • Write out your illustration word-for-word when developing a new story. Practice will help in clearly communicating the illustration to the audience. Present it spontaneously for maximum effectiveness.
  • Carefully work out your transitional statement so it leads into the application of your story. What point are you making? Work toward smooth transitions. You can say “first, second, and last.” Try to make transitions obvious.

A speech is not a speech nor a message a message without content and supportive material. Help your audience engage with the purpose of your speech through effective and interesting illustrations and stories!

            [1] Bruce E. Gronbeck, Kathleen German, Douglas Ehninger, and Alan H. Monroe. Principles of Speech Communication 12th Brief ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 73-83.

            [2] “Women and the Economy 2010: 25 Years of Progress But Challenges Remain,” (cited 3 March 2013), Joint Economic Committee United States Congress (Joint Economic Committee, 2010).

            [3] Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Power (Mukilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, 1997), 14.

            [4] L.P. Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel Pubns, 1985), 27.

            [5] Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations, 9.

            [6] Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 80-83.

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