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Meiss Education Institute

Proving Your Claims: Adding Supporting Material
By Rich Meiss

Designing & Delivering Powerful Presentations Series:  V

Supporting material is the glue that holds the main points of a presentation together.  It is very often what makes a presentation interesting and engaging.  One of the main types of supporting material is a story.

Several years ago my family and I moved to a new home on a few acres west of Minneapolis.  We decided that we would feed the birds in our snowy winter months in Minnesota, so I went about purchasing and putting up a number of bird feeders, and stocking them with treats.  We were pleased that within just a few days we attracted quite a variety of birds, including a pair of cardinals.  Now if you have cardinals in your part of the world, you know that the male cardinal is a very striking looking bird.  He has that bright red color, with a dark face and a crested point on the top of his head.

Well, as beautiful as this bird was, we discovered fairly quickly that this male cardinal was not too bright (no comments here ladies, please!).  He would fly and land in an apple tree near our garage, and apparently seeing his own reflection in the garage window and wanting to protect his territory, he would fly full speed into that window.  He would smack himself against the window, fall temporarily dazed to the window sill, and then fly back to the apple tree, ONLY TO REPEAT THE SAME BEHAVIOR OVER AGAIN. Day after day I watched this bird repeat his same behavior – never seeming to learn that he was not getting the results he wanted!

Sometimes we are like that as human beings, aren’t we?  We try out a certain behavior or do a certain action, and even though we don’t like the result we get, we continue to do the same thing, over and over.  Albert Schweitzer called this the INSANITY PRINCIPLE – when we do the same thing over and over, yet expect to get a different result.  And from my experience with the cardinal, I developed what I call the CARDINAL PRINCIPLE:  If you want a different result, you have to try a new behavior!

Stories Support Your Key Points

I use this story often in presentations where I am trying to influence people to make changes in their lives.  As I tell the story, I start to see people’s heads nod, as if they are really getting the point.  Now I could tell them about the insanity principle without the story, but I believe the story credibility to the point.  And besides, it is a true story that really happened in my life.

 Here are seven reasons to use stories in your presentations:

-          They dramatically make a point.

-          They bring out the child in participants.

-          They increase retention.

-          They inspire participants to change.

-          They allow you to share your personal experiences – in an interesting (usually) way.

-          They build credibility.

-          They arouse curiosity.

Of course, there are also some cautions when using stories.  Here are a few:

-          Avoid the use of someone else’s “signature story” (a story someone else made famous).

-          Be careful of using too many “I’s” and “me’s”.

-          Practice telling the story many times – with family, friends, or in front of a mirror – before telling it to a live audience.  (You want to look and sound good!)

-          Avoid over-used stories (I was once in the audience of an all-day series of presentations, and three of the presenters used the same story – ouch!).

-          Keep your stories short while still making your point.

-          Credit the source of the story, if possible.

-          Make the story your own.

Use Other Types of Supporting Material

Besides stories, there are a number of other good sources of supporting material.  Here are some examples:

  • Analogy - An implied comparison:  “This is the Achilles heel of our department.”
  • Definition - Clarify the meaning:  “Primacy is the scientific term for the beginning of a presentation.”  
  • Explanation - Illustrates the point:  “You will have a 90% retention rate if you cover a concept up to six times.”
  • Example - Cite a specific case: “The Regal Account showed that a 20% increase is easily achieved.”
  • Fact - Verifiable claim:  “Sousa’s research shows that a lecture only lead to 10% retention among the participants.”
  • Statistics – Numbers:  “The sales increase was 2.5 million dollars.”
  • Testimony - Qualified statement:  “Our President has used this product for 5 years.”

Supporting material brings life to what can otherwise be a dull and boring presentation.  Follow the 3S formula when making your presentation: 

    1. State                your first point.
    2. Support           your point with one of the examples discussed above.
    3. Summarize      your point and then go on to the next point.

Strong supporting material adds clarity and interest to your presentations!


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