Supporting your Arguments

Learning Objectives

  1. Clarify why it is important to use support for every claim made within a speech.
  2. Understand the forms of support used within a speech.

Why do we Need Support?

Persuasive speakers use support to help provide a credible foundation for their message. While some experts can get away with not supporting every claim, non-experts must show they have done their homework. 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 or a list of your (non-expert) ideas. Audience members may ignore the speech’s message, dismissing it as just hot air or a rant. In addition to being the foundation that a speech stands on, support also helps us to clarify our points, increase our credibility, and make the speech more vivid.

Note: The following section is provided as a very brief introduction. As you write your speech, refer to this link for more detail on each of the support types: https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_stand-up-speak-out-the-practice-and-ethics-of-public-speaking/s11-02-exploring-types-of-support.html

Forms of Speech Support

Once you have a basic outline of your speech, you will fill in the main points. Every point within a speech must be supported with proof.  Common types of support are: facts and statistics, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies.

Facts and Statistics

A fact is a truth that is arrived at through the scientific process. Many of the facts that speakers cite are based on statistics. 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, 1924).

Providing Examples

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.

A positive example 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 examples, 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.

Narratives

Another form of support are narratives, 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, 1987).

Testimony

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.  Expert testimony 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.

Analogies

An analogy is a figure of speech that compares two ideas or objects, showing how they are similar in some way. The goal of the analogy is to demonstrate that the two objects or ideas are similar; therefore, they should have further similarities that support your argument. Make sure that the ideas are closely related and can be viewed as similar. For example, 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. Make sure that the audience can see a reasonable connection between the two ideas or objects being compared. 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.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Every claim within a speech should be supported. While some experts can get away with not supporting every claim, non-experts must show they have done their homework.

Exercises

  1. You’ve been asked to give a speech on child labour within Canada. Provide a list of possible examples you could use in your speech.
  2. Find a speech on the Vital Speeches of the Day website (http://www.vsotd.com) and try to identify the types of support the speaker utilized. Is the speaker’s use of support effective? Why or why not?

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