Speaking Effectively Chapter 3



Most listeners find it difficult to understand unsupported ideas or assertions. Suppose, for instance, you decide to speak on "How to Organize a Talk." You tell your listeners that they can organize a talk according to one of several possible patterns of presentation You then tell them that the most common patterns are: time, space, cause/effect, problem/solution, pro/con, and topic. Most likely you will not have provided enough information for your listeners to actually use these patterns of organization. You will need to go on and explain each of these patterns as has been done in the preceding chapter.

Factors to Consider

Consider all factors when choosing support. The subject of your talk, the type of talk (briefing, lecture, or speech), and the composition of your audience will help you determine the amount and kinds of support to use.


For a briefing, support is generally limited to factual data carefully selected to accomplish the "need to know.'' The requirement for brevity dictates that you not use extraneous or "nice to know" support. Visual aids are often used to save time and achieve accuracy. Humor is seldom used. If the purpose of the briefing is persuasive, use logic rather than emotion to persuade.

Teaching Lecture

Factual material is also important in the teaching lecture, although there may be a need to use support that also appeals strongly to the emotions. Humor and other attention-
commanding materials are common throughout the lecture. Visual aids are often used, not only to save time and improve accuracy but also to clarify ideas.


Informative speeches use much the same support as teaching lectures. Entertaining speeches rely heavily on humor and other attention-getting support. Persuasive speeches are characterized by more appeal to emotions or motives than any other kind of talk you will give. Appeal to such motives as fear, curiosity, loyalty, adventure, pride, and sympathy is common in persuasion. The distinction between logical and emotional support, however, is in content rather than form. Any type of verbal and visual support mentioned in this chapter may be primarily logical or emotional. But just because support appeals to the emotions does not mean it has to be illogical.

Logical Thinking

Both verbal and visual support, whether used primarily for emotional or logical appeals, should be backed by logical thinking. Here are some problems that commonly affect logical thinking of persons preparing talks.

Slanted Reasoning

Slanted reasoning occurs when a speaker makes invalid inferences or reaches false conclusions due to faulty reasoning. Several common types of slanted reasoning follow:

1. The hasty generalization happens when a speaker judges a whole class of objects from an insufficient sample. The person who meets two persons from Alabama and dislikes them, and based on a sample of two, concludes that all people from Alabama are unlikable is guilty of making a hasty generalization.

2. The faulty dilemma stems from the fact that although some objects or qualities can be divided into discrete categories, most cannot. Deeds that are not evil are not necessarily good. A cup of coffee may be neither hot nor cold; it may be lukewarm.

3. The faulty analogy happens when a speaker assumes that two things alike in some way or ways are alike in all ways. The human body and an automobile engine are alike in many respects: both must operate within certain temperature limits, both last longer if cared for, both consume fuel. But you would not argue that since adding tetraethyl lead to gasoline makes an automobile engine run better, people should put tetraethyl lead in their coffee.

4. Stacking the evidence occurs when speakers lift out of context only the support that fits their talk while ignoring equally important material that is detrimental to points they are trying to make.

5. Faulty causal reasoning is seen when a speaker reasons that if A is present, B occurs; further if A is absent, B does not occur; therefore, the speaker reasons that A causes B. Of course it could be that B causes A, or perhaps both are caused by a third ingredient, C.

Irrational Appeals

Irrational appeals depend upon blind transfer of feelings from one thing to another without logical thought. Consider the following examples of irrational appeal.

1. Name calling refers to putting people or things in a bad light by calling them uncomplimentary names such as fatso, warmonger, Seward's Icebox.

2. Glittering generalities are apparent when speakers wrap their ideas in good, golden, glittering words such as peace, culture, equality, and flag.

3. Bandwagon appeal operates on the principle that "everyone else is doing it so you should too." Some speakers use the bandwagon appeal to promote the feeling that listeners would be presumptuous to judge for themselves something that the group accepts.

4. "Plain folks'' strategy is used when speakers attempt to identify with the simple (and presumably desired) things of life. A speaker who says in front of a farm audience, ''I know how you feel, I was born and raised on a farm, and I want to keep the big city politicians' hands off your property tax money," is using plain-folks strategy. Identifying with your audience is a sound practice, but identification alone is not rational support.

5. Prestige or transfer is used by those who drop names or use other strategies to appear important. They believe that simply associating themselves with certain personalities will cause listeners to associate desired traits of those personalities with them as the speakers.

Verbal Support

Verbal support is used either to clarify the points you wish to make or to prove your assertions. Definitions, examples, and comparisons are used primarily for clarification. Statistics and testimony of experts can be used either for clarification or proof. Humor can be used with any of the preceding five types of verbal support and will be treated separately in this chapter.


Definitions are often needed to clarify or explain the meaning of a term, concept, or principle. But like so many words, definition can mean different things and can function in different ways.

In some talks you may need to use words that are technical, complex, or strange to your listeners. With increasing specialization in the Air Force in both theoretical and applied subjects, the development of new words or terms races ahead of dictionaries. Words such as pneudraulics (military aircraft brake systems), taxonomy (scientific classification), détente (military strategy) or groupthink (a problem of groups) might require literal definitions or restatement in simpler language.

At other times there is a need to define words that are frequently loosely employed. Some words simply have different meanings for different people. Words such as democracy, equal rights, security needs, and loyalty can usually be defined easily. For instance, disseminate can be defined very simply as "spread widely.'' Sometimes a speaker may seek novel and memorable ways to define such terms. Pragmatism might be defined as ''a fancy word to mean that the proof of the pudding is in the eating." Sometimes it takes a little longer to fully define what is meant by a certain term. A former POW might define the sacrifice of one prisoner for another:

When you see an American prisoner giving up his meager ration of fish, just so another American who is sick can have a little more to eat, that is sacrifice. Because when you don't have anything, and you give it up, or you have very little and you give it up, then you're hurting yourself, and that is true sacrifice. That's what I saw in the prison camp.

Definitions should also be used to explain the meaning of acronyms—words or other combinations of letters formed from the initial letter of each of the successive parts of a compound term. In the preceding paragraph, with some audiences, it might have been necessary to explain that POW stands for prisoner of war. If you were discussing PME at AU, you might have to explain that PME at AU means professional military education that is taught at Air University. Furthermore, you might go on to mention that PME includes AWC, ACSC, SOS, and SNCOA—that is, Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, Squadron Officer School, and the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy.

Finally, at times an entire talk may be needed to define or otherwise introduce students to a new concept or principle—for example, a speaker discussing the concept of communication as transaction. Perhaps an entire lecture would be needed to explain that the transactional approach means to consider the total communication process and the interaction of the various parts of the process on each other. Other forms of support material such as examples and comparisons would be needed to fully define what was meant.


Any time other persons ask you to ''give a for instance," they are asking for an example to clarify the point you are trying to make. Sometimes the examples may be reasonably long. The parables of Jesus, the stories of Homer, Aesop's Fables, and many of the stories that appeared in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln are detailed examples.

At other times a short example is sufficient. In some cases short examples are similar to definitions. The earlier definition of sacrifice given by the former POW might be considered a short example. The fact that some support materials might be classed either as definitions or examples should not be a major concern to you. As a speaker, you are more interested in using effective support material than in classifying it.

Often short examples can be clustered together in order to help listeners gain a more complete understanding of the point. In a talk on barriers to effective communication, a speaker might cluster examples of spoonerisms: "Is the bean dizzy?" ("Is the dean busy?"); "I'll have a coff of cuppee" ("I'll have a cup of coffee''); ''A half-warmed fish within us" ("A half-formed wish within us'').

You should ask yourself several questions about examples you plan to use:

The appropriate answers to these questions should be obvious.


Description often becomes more graphic when we place an unknown or little understood item beside a similar but better known item. You might want to compare things that are unlike or things that are very much alike.

Metaphors such as Winston Churchill's "iron curtain" or similes (using the words "like" or "as'' such as Robert Burns's "My love is like a red, red rose" or saying "strong as an ox") are comparisons of things that are unlike in most ways. Speakers may compare unlike things. For instance, one might say, "The flow of knowledge is like the relentless and uncompromising flow of a river after the spring thaw as it imposes on us the requirement that we not only adjust to, but anticipate, the future." Or a speaker might show that being a member of a branch in an Air Force organization is like living in a family where we have intimate contact with each other. The analogy or comparison might be carried further by pointing out that in a branch, as in a family, members can protect one another, help one another, and irritate each other.

Although analogies that compare dissimilar things serve as an excellent means of clarification, they have limited utility as proof. If you wish to support an assertion, you must compare similar things. Comparison of Soviet air power with US air power or the relationship between the mayor and city council with the relationship between the base commander and his staff are like comparisons. Arguing that a longer orientation session for students in a certain NCO academy would improve academic performance because it did at another NCO academy would be comparing like phenomena—in this case, two NCO academies.

Contrast is a special form of comparison. For instance, showing how Air Force training differs from Army training or how today's standard of living differs from that of a generation ago clarifies and explains a point by showing contrast or differences.

Obviously, comparisons may be very brief such as those given here or they may be quite long. You need to decide what will work best in a given situation. But whether long or short, comparisons are a valuable and generally underused method of verbal support.


Words and thoughts of others are particularly useful when you wish to add strong proof support for assertions or points that you make. No one is expected to be an expert on all subjects; speakers often must rely on what others have said. At times testimony of others is used simply to clarify or explain an idea; often it is intended to provide proof for a claim.

If you are presenting a talk on managerial effectiveness in an organization, one of your main points might be the importance of effective downward communication. In other words, you want to stress how important it is for supervisors to keep their subordinates informed. You might quote from an Air Force Policy Letter for Commanders, which comes from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. It says, "Commanders and supervisors have an increased responsibility to keep Air Force military and civilian members informed.'' You might also report the findings from a study by the International Association of Business Communicators which show that "face-to-face communication, including group meetings and one-on-one dialogue," proved the most effective means of communicating with employees. Sometimes, you will want to use direct quotations as we have done here. At other times you will paraphrase what another has said. Whatever the case, there are two tests of testimony: (1) Are the sources competent—do they know what they are talking about? and (2) Can they be trusted—are they free from bias? Other considerations are: Is the testimony relevant, clear, and interesting? Are the quotations longer than necessary?


Statistics are probably the most misused and misunder-
stood type of verbal support. When properly collected and wisely used, statistics can help speakers clarify their ideas. Statistics are also the most powerful proof support we can use. However, not all figures are statistics, some are simply numbers. Statistics show relationships, largeness or smallness, increases or decreases, or summarize large collections of facts or data. When you choose statistics, there are some questions to ask.

1. Are the statistics recent? Figures concerning the cost of living in 1960 would have limited usefulness for today's family planning its budget. When selecting statistics to use, be on guard if no date is given or if the statistics are outdated.

2. Do the statistics indicate what they purport to? A single test score may not be a true measure of a student's ability. The number of planes may not indicate the strength of the Air Force.

3. Do the statistics cover a long enough time or enough samples to be reliable? The results of how one class responded to a new curriculum change would be less meaningful than how three or four classes responded to the change.

4. If the statistics are drawn from a sample, does the sample accurately represent the group to which we are generalizing? Public opinion surveys and experimental researchers are generally sensitive to the importance of obtaining a representative sample. Speakers also need to be sensitive to this need.

5. When statistics report differences, are the differences significant? Minor variations can often be attributed to chance. In other words, if you were to collect your statistics again, the results might differ.

6. When comparing things, are the units of measure compared the same? Failure in one course might have a different meaning than failure in another. If more students fail one course than another, you cannot necessarily conclude that the content of one course is more difficult. Perhaps the grading scale rather than the content was more difficult.

7. Do the statistics come from a good, reliable source? And is the source clearly indicated? It is more effective to state the source of the information than to say "recent surveys show."

8. Are the statistics presented to their best advantage to aid listener understanding? Could visual aids be used to present the statistics in graphic or tabular form for easier understanding? Have figures been rounded off where possible? Listeners are more likely to remember "nearly $45,000" than "$44,871.24." Are the number of statistics limited so that listeners are not overwhelmed by them? Could the significance of statistics be made more clear with meaningful comparisons? To say that World War II cost the United States $200 billion would not be as clearly perceived as if the figures were converted to today's dollars or if they were compared to the cost of a war today using a standard measure.


Most listeners admire a speaker who can use humor effectively. Yet few speakers are able to do so. Moreover, when humor is used, it is generally only at the beginning to gain audience attention. Humor can be used with good results in the body of a talk.

There are two reasons to use humor in the body of a talk. One is to recapture the attention of the audience. The attention span of most people is only a few minutes; so unless the material is terribly engaging, a speaker can recall instances when an audience's attention wandered. Humor regains attention. The second reason to use humor in the body of a talk is to emphasize an important point. Although a story or anecdote is seldom real proof, it may reinforce your audience's ability to remember the point.

Humor must be used properly if it is to be effective. There are six essentials to using humor.

1. Know the item thoroughly. We have all heard speakers stumble through a potentially humorous item or make it through in fine shape only to forget the punch line. But if speakers know the story and have told it before, they will be able to tell it again and know the kind of response to expect. It is generally a good rule for speakers not to use a story or humorous item of any kind in a speech unless they have told it several times in informal situations so they can both practice and gauge the reactions of others.

2. Don't use inappropriate humor. Some speakers consider off-color stories or ethnic humor as a cheap way to get a laugh from an audience. But even people who laugh at such stories in private often lose respect for the speaker who uses them in public. Deciding if a joke is inappropriate is not always easy. If there is doubt, the story probably isn't appropriate.

3. Vitalize humor. Stories should be personalized so they are believable, so they sound as if they really happened. Rather than talk about "this guy I heard about," or "this truck driver," the speaker should give the characters in the stories names. Successful raconteurs and speakers nearly always vitalize their humor.

4. Don't laugh before the audience laughs. Some comedians get away with laughing first, but good speakers never laugh before the audience. If a speaker fails to get the story across, laughing alone on a platform is disaster. If the joke fails, the speaker is best advised to leave it and go on.

5. Capitalize on the unexpected. One of the primary elements of humor is that people laugh when they are surprised. A few years ago, streaking was a fad on college campuses. Most firsthand observers laughed when confronted by a streaker. Some of the laughter was no doubt due to embarrassment; most of it was due to the element of surprise. The following are all types of humor that depend on the unexpected: quips (of course, men aren't what they used to be—they used to be boys), puns (try our bread, we knead the dough), exaggeration (the heat was so terrific last week that I saw a hound dog chasing a rabbit; they were both walking), understatement (if at first you don't succeed, well, so much for skydiving).

6. See humor in the situation. The best opportunity for adding humor may come in those minutes just before you speak. It may come from things said by those preceding you on the program. It may come from malfunction of your visual aids, getting tangled up in the microphone cord, or from a person sneezing in your audience. And although much of this situational humor may not directly support the point you are making, it can nevertheless help win your audience.

Being witty and humorous is not easy. It helps to have an agile and sophisticated mind—one that adapts skillfully to the audience. Yet many more speakers could use humor effectively if they were willing to try and willing to practice.

Visual Support

Verbal support is certainly at the heart of any good talk, but visual aids can function to dramatize, amplify, or clarify the points you are trying to get across to your audience. AU-1, volume 8, Easy Visual Aids, emphasizes easy to construct and inexpensive visual aids for various kinds of speaking situations. However, in this book the emphasis is solely on how to use visual aids.


Some basic suggestions apply to visual aids that might be used with any type of talk you give.

1. Use only materials that are relevant. Avoid using materials solely for aesthetic or interest value. Certainly, visual materials should be interesting, but the primary purpose of any visual aid is to portray or support an idea graphically for your listeners. Irrelevant materials distract from the idea you are presenting.

2. Use visual materials that are large enough to be seen by all the audience. Nothing is so disturbing as to be seated in the back of the room unable to see the visual aids. In preparing for your talk, display the visual aids, then move yourself to the location of your most distant listener. If you can't readily see the material, consider replacing it with something more appropriate.

3. Use visual materials only at the proper time. Do not expose the visual material until the proper point in the talk. Clearly mark your notes or outline so you will know when to use each piece of visual support. Materials that are visible too soon or that remain in view after the point has been made distract from and interrupt the continuity of the talk. You may want to use the "striptease" or buildup method for revealing a series of points. Don't list ten main points for the audience and then discuss each one. Instead, uncover the points one at a time to keep the audience's attention focused.

4. Keep visual materials as simple and as clear as possible. Emphasize only the most important information. Omit unnecessary details. A series of simple charts is preferable to a single complicated one.

5. Talk to the audience, not to the visual aid. If you are explaining a chart, look at your audience as much as possible. By the time you make your talk, you should be so familiar with your visual aids that it will be unnecessary for you to look at them closely. When possible, paraphrase the visual material instead of reading it, or pause and let the audience read it silently.

6. Place visual aids away from obstructions. Don't allow other projects or persons—including yourself—to obstruct the view of your audience. You decided to use visual materials to support and clarify your talk. Don't hinder their effectiveness by obstructing the audience's view.

7. If you plan to use equipment such as an overhead projector, a slide projector, or a film projector, make certain beforehand that you know how to use the equipment and that it is set up and ready to go. Also, know whether or not you have a spare bulb, how to change it, or how to improvise and do without the equipment. In other words, be ready for any contingencies that may develop. Many potentially sound presentations fail because the speaker fails to plan for equipment that malfunctions.

8. When using flipcharts, consider flipping from back to front rather than from front to back. There are at least three advantages. First, flipping back to front is easier—try it if you don't think so. Second, flipping from back to front can be done from the side of the charts rather than from the front—between the charts and the audience—as you generally have to do when flipping from front to back. Third, if the paper you use for the charts is relatively thin, the back to front procedure prevents your audience from reading through the paper to a chart you haven't yet discussed.

9. Finally, before you construct a visual aid, ask yourself if the effort and expense required to prepare or procure the aid are justified and add significantly to the overall value of the talk. If not, forget it. Often the time spent preparing visual aids could be better spent preparing and practicing the talk.

Using a Chalkboard

If you use a chalkboard, consider the following additional suggestions:

1. Pare the chalk to desired thickness so that the lines you draw are 1/4 to 3/8 inches wide. Have spare pieces of chalk ready for use.

2. Use a No. 2 soft pencil and yardstick to make erasable guidelines on the board before your audience enters the room. Later when writing on the board during your talk you can ensure straight and even lettering by following lines invisible to your audience.

3. Cramping your letters and diagrams cramps your speaking. To be seen easily at 30 feet, letters should be about three inches high.

4. Avoid using the bottom half of the board if you are speaking from the same floor level as your audience since some listeners may be unable to see.

5. Determine where glare on the board is a distraction. Before the audience enters the room adjust window shades or avoid these areas of the board.

6. If the room is equipped with a magnetic chalkboard, or if some other metal surface such as a file cabinet is nearby, consider preconstructed visual aids with magnets glued to the back. Reusable magnetic material one-inch wide can be purchased in long lengths and cut easily to the desired length. Two magnets one-inch square will support one square foot of lightweight illustration board.

After You Have Your Support

By this time you have considered the unique factors of your talk. You have decided whether to present a briefing, a lecture, or some type of speech. You have considered your audience, your subject, your objectives and have gathered your material. You have organized the body of the talk and have selected the kinds of verbal and visual support you will use with careful thought toward being logical in your use of support. Two important ingredients must be supplied before you are ready to work on presenting your talk. You need to plan a good introduction and a good conclusion.