8.3 Using Support and Creating Arguments

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain how to distinguish between useful and nonuseful forms of support.
  2. Understand the five ways support is used within a speech.
  3. Describe the purpose of a reverse outline.
  4. Clarify why it is important to use support for every claim made within a speech.
  5. Evaluate the three-step process for using support within a speech.

A poster board littered with post it notes during brainstorming

Supporting one’s ideas with a range of facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies can make the difference between a boring speech your audience will soon forget and one that has a lasting effect on their lives.

Although the research process is designed to help you find effective support, you still need to think through how you will use the support you have accumulated. In this section, we will examine how to use support effectively in one’s speech, first by examining the types of support one needs in a speech and then by seeing how support can be used to enhance one’s argument.

Understanding Arguments

You may associate the word “argument” with a situation in which two people are having some kind of conflict. But in this context we are using a definition for the word argument that goes back to the ancient Greeks, who saw arguments as a set of logical premises leading to a clear conclusion. While we lack the time for an entire treatise on the nature and study of arguments, we do want to highlight some of the basic principles in argumentation.

First, all arguments are based on a series of statements that are divided into two basic categories: premises and conclusions. A premise is a statement that is designed to provide support or evidence, whereas the conclusion is a statement that can be clearly drawn from the provided premises. Let’s look at an example and then explain this in more detail:

Premise 1: Eating fast food has been linked to childhood obesity.

Premise 2: Childhood obesity is clearly linked to early onset type 2 diabetes, which can have many negative health ramifications.

Conclusion: Therefore, for children to avoid developing early onset type 2 diabetes, they must have their fast-food intake limited.

In this example, the first two statements are premises linking fast food to childhood obesity to diabetes. Once we’ve made this logical connection, we can then provide a logical conclusion that one important way of preventing type 2 diabetes is to limit, if not eliminate, fast food from children’s diets. While this may not necessary be a popular notion for many people, the argument itself is logically sound.

How, then, does this ultimately matter for you and your future public speaking endeavors? Well, a great deal of persuasive speaking is built on creating arguments that your listeners can understand and that will eventually influence their ideas or behaviors. In essence, creating strong arguments is a fundamental part of public speaking.

Now, in the example above, we are clearly missing one important part of the argument process—support or evidence. So far we have presented two premises that many people may believe, but we need support or evidence for those premises if we are going to persuade people who do not already believe those statements. As such, when creating logical arguments (unless you are a noted expert on a subject), you must provide support to ensure that your arguments will be seen as credible. And that is what we will discuss next.

Sifting Through Your Support

When researching a topic, you’re going to find a range of different types of supporting evidence. You may find examples of all six types of support: facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimony, and analogies. Sooner or later, you are going to have to make some decisions as to which pieces of support you will use and which you won’t. While there is no one way to select your support, here are some helpful suggestions.

Use a Variety of Support Types

One of the most important parts of using support is variety. Nothing will kill a speech faster than if you use the same type of support over and over again. Try to use as much support as needed to make your point without going overboard. You might decide to begin with a couple of definitions and rely on a gripping piece of eyewitness testimony as your other major support. Or you might use a combination of facts, examples, and narratives. In another case, statistics and examples might be most effective. Audience members are likely to have different preferences for support; some may like statistics while others really find narratives compelling. By using a variety of forms of support, you are likely to appeal to a broader range of audience members and thus effectively adapt to your audience. Even if your audience members prefer a specific form of support, providing multiple types of support is important to keep them interested. To use an analogy, even people who love ice cream would get tired of it if they ate only ice cream every day for a week, so variety is important.

Choose Appropriate Forms of Support

Depending on the type of speech you are giving, your speech’s context, and your audience, different types of evidence may or may not be appropriate. While speeches using precise lexical definitions may be useful for the courtroom, they may not be useful in an after-dinner speech to entertain. At the same time, entertaining narratives may be great for a speech whose general purpose is to entertain, but may decrease a speaker’s credibility when attempting to persuade an audience about a serious topic.

Check for Relevance

Another consideration about potential support is whether or not it is relevant. Each piece of supporting material you select needs to support the specific purpose of your speech. You may find the coolest quotation, but if that quotation doesn’t really help your core argument in your speech, you need to leave it out. If you start using too many irrelevant support sources, your audience will quickly catch on and your credibility will drop through the floor.

Your support materials should be relevant not only to your topic but also to your audience. If you are giving a speech to an audience of sixty-year-olds, you may be able to begin with “Think back to where you were when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot,” but this would be meaningless with an audience of twenty-five-year-olds. Similarly, references to music download sites or the latest popular band may not be effective with audiences who are not interested in music.

Don’t Go Overboard

In addition to being relevant, supporting materials need to help you support your speech’s specific purpose without interfering with your speech. You may find three different sources that support your speech’s purpose in the same way. If that happens, you shouldn’t include all three forms of support. Instead, pick the form of support that is the most beneficial for your speech. Remember, the goal is to support your speech, not to have the support become your speech.

Don’t Manipulate Your Support

The last factor related to shifting through your support involves a very important ethical area called support-manipulation. Often speakers will attempt to find support that says exactly what they want it to say despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of evidence says the exact opposite. When you go out of your way to pull the wool over your audience’s eyes, you are being unethical and not treating your audience with respect. Here are some very important guidelines to consider to avoiding support-manipulation:

  • Do not overlook significant factors or individuals related to your topic.
  • Do not ignore evidence that does not support your speech’s specific purpose.
  • Do not jump to conclusions that are simply not justified based on the supporting evidence you have.
  • Do not use evidence to support faulty logic.
  • Do not use out-of-date evidence that is no longer supported.
  • Do not use evidence out of its original context.
  • Do not knowingly use evidence from a source that is clearly biased.
  • Make sure you clearly cite all your supporting evidence within your speech.

Using Support within Your Speech

Now that we’ve described ways to sift through your evidence, it’s important to discuss how to use your evidence within your speech. In the previous sections of this chapter, we’ve talked about the various types of support you can use (facts and statistics, definitions, examples, narratives, testimonies, and analogies). In this section, we’re going to examine how these types of evidence are actually used within a speech. Then we will discuss ways to think through the support you need for a speech and also how to actually use support while speaking.

Forms of Speech Support

Let’s begin by examining the forms that support can take in a speech: quotations, paraphrases, summaries, numerical support, and pictographic support.


The first common form of support utilized in a speech is direct quotation. Direct quotations occur when Speaker A uses the exact wording by another speaker or writer within his or her new speech. Quotations are very helpful and can definitely provide you a tool for supporting your speech’s specific purpose. Here are five tips for using quotations within a speech:

  1. Use a direct quotation if the original author’s words are witty, engaging, distinct, or particularly vivid.
  2. Use a direct quotation if you want to highlight a specific expert and his or her expertise within your speech.
  3. Use a direct quotation if you are going to specifically analyze something that is said within the quotation. If your analysis depends on the exact wording of the quotation, then it is important to use the quotation.
  4. Keep quotations to a minimum. One of the biggest mistakes some speakers make is just stringing together a series of quotations and calling it a speech. Remember, a speech is your unique insight into a topic, not just a series of quotations.
  5. Keep quotations short. Long quotations can lose an audience, and the connection between your support and your argument can get lost.


The second form support takes on during a speech is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing involves taking the general idea or theme from another speaker or author and condensing the idea or theme in your own words. As we described in Chapter 7 “Researching Your Speech”, a mistake that some speakers make is dropping a couple of words or rearranging some words within a direct quotation and thinking that is a paraphrase. When paraphrasing you need to understand the other speaker or author’s ideas well enough to relate them without looking back at the original. Here are four tips for using paraphrases in your speeches:

  1. Paraphrase when you can say it more concisely than the original speaker or author.
  2. Paraphrase when the exact wording from the original speaker or author won’t improve your audience’s understanding of the support.
  3. Paraphrase when you want to adapt an example, analogy, or narrative by another speaker or author to make its relevance more evident.
  4. Paraphrase information that is not likely to be questioned by your audience. If you think your audience may question your support, then relying on a direct quotation may be more effective.


Whereas quotations and paraphrases are taking a whole text and singling out a couple of lines or a section, a summary involves condensing or encapsulating the entire text as a form of support. Summaries are helpful when you want to clearly spell out the intent behind a speaker’s or author’s text. Here are three suggestions for using summaries within your speech.

  1. Summarize when you need another speaker or author’s complete argument to understand the argument within your speech.
  2. Summarize when explaining possible counterarguments to the one posed within your speech.
  3. Summarize when you need to cite a number of different sources effectively and efficiently to support a specific argument.

Numerical Support

Speakers often have a need to use numerical support, or citing data and numbers within a speech. The most common reason for using numerical support comes when a speaker needs to cite statistics. When using data to support your speech, you need to make sure that your audience can accurately interpret the numbers in the same way you are doing. Here are three tips for using numerical support:

  1. Clearly state the numbers used and where they came from.
  2. Make sure you explain what the numbers mean and how you think they should be interpreted.
  3. If the numbers are overly complicated or if you use a variety of numbers within a speech, consider turning this support into a visual aid to enhance your audience’s understanding of the numerical support.

Pictographic Support

The last form of support commonly used in speeches we label pictographic support, but it is more commonly referred to as visual aids. Pictographic support is any drawn or visual representation of an object or process. For the purposes of this chapter, we call visual aids pictographic support in order to stress that we are using images as a form of support taken from a source. For example, if you’re giving a speech on how to swing a golf club, you could bring in a golf club and demonstrate exactly how to use the golf club. While the golf club in this instance is a visual aid, it is not pictographic support. If you showed a diagram illustrating the steps for an effective golf swing, the diagram is an example of pictographic support. So while all forms of pictographic support are visual aids, not all visual aids are pictographic support. Here are five suggestions for effectively using pictographic support in your speech.

  1. Use pictographic support when it would be easier and shorter than orally explaining an object or process.
  2. Use pictographic support when you really want to emphasize the importance of the support. Audiences recall information more readily when they both see and hear it than if they see or hear the information.
  3. Make sure that pictographic support is aesthetically pleasing. See Chapter 15 “Presentation Aids: Design and Usage” on using visual aids for more ideas on how to make visual aids aesthetically pleasing.
  4. Pictographic support should be easy to understand, and it should take less time to use than words alone.
  5. Make sure everyone in your audience can easily see your pictographic support. If listeners cannot see it, then it will not help them understand how it is supposed to help your speech’s specific purpose.

Is Your Support Adequate?

Now that we’ve examined the ways to use support in your speech, how do you know if you have enough support?

Use a Reverse Outline

One recommendation we have for selecting the appropriate support for your speech is what we call a reverse outline. A reverse outline is a tool you can use to determine the adequacy of your speech’s support by starting with your conclusion and logically working backward through your speech to determine if the support you provided is appropriate and comprehensive. In essence, we recommend that you think of your speech in terms of the conclusion first and then work your way backward showing how you get to the conclusion. By forcing yourself to think about logic in reverse, you’re more likely to find missteps along the way. This technique is not only helpful for analyzing the overall flow of your speech, but it can also let you see if different sections of your speech are not completely supported individually.

Support Your Claims

When selecting the different types of support for your speech, you need to make sure that every claim you make within the speech can be supported within the speech. For example, if you state, “The majority of Americans want immigration reform,” you need to make sure that you have a source that actually says this. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, too often people make claims within a speech that they have no support for whatsoever. When you go through your speech, you need to make sure that each and every claim that you make is adequately supported by the evidence you have selected to use within the speech.

Oral Presentation

Finally, after you have selected and evaluated your forms of support, it is time to plan how you will present your support orally within your speech. How will you present the information to make it effective? To help you think about using support, we recommend a three-step process: setup, execution, and analysis.


The first step in using support within a speech is what we call the setup. The setup is a sentence or phrase in which you explain to your audience where the information you are using came from. Note that if you found the information on a website, it is not sufficient to merely give your audience the URL. Depending on the source of your support, all the following information could be useful: name of source, location of source, date of source, name of author, and identification of author. First, you need to tell your audience the name of your source. Whether you are using a song or an article from a magazine, you need to tell your audience the name of the person who wrote it and its title. Second, if your source comes from a larger work, you need to include the location of the source. For example, a single article (name of source) may come from a magazine (the location). Third, you need to specify the date of the source. Depending on the type of source you are using, you may need to provide just a year or the day and month as well. You should provide as much information on the date as is provided on the copyright information page of the source.

Thus far we’ve talked only about the information you need to provide specifically about the source; let’s now switch gears and talk about the author. When discussing the author, you need to clearly explain not only who the author is but also why the author is an expert (if appropriate). Some sources are written by authors who are not experts, so you really don’t need to explain their expertise. In other cases, your audience will already know why the source is an expert, so there is less need to explain why the source is an expert. For example, if giving a speech on current politics in the United States, you probably do not need to explain the expertise of Barack Obama or John Boehner. However, when you don’t provide information on an author’s expertise and your audience does not already know why the source is an expert, your audience will question the validity of your support.

Now that we’ve explained the basic information necessary for using support within a speech, here are two different examples:

  1. According to Melanie Smithfield in an article titled “Do It Right, or Do It Now,” published in the June 18, 2009, issue of Time Magazine
  2. According to Roland Smith, a legendary civil rights activist and former chair of the Civil Rights Defense League, in his 2001 book The Path of Peace

In the first example we have an author who wrote an article in a magazine, and in the second one we have an author of a book. In both cases, we provided the information that was necessary to understand where the source was located. The more information we can provide our audiences about our support, the more information our audiences have to evaluate the strength of our arguments.


Once we have set up the support, the second part of using support is what we call execution. The execution of support involves actually reading a quotation, paraphrasing a speaker or author’s words, summarizing a speaker or author’s ideas, providing numerical support, or showing pictographic support. Effective execution should be seamless and flow easily within the context of your speech. While you want your evidence to make an impact, you also don’t want it to seem overly disjointed. One mistake that some novice public speakers make is that when they start providing evidence, their whole performance changes and the use of evidence looks and sounds awkward. Make sure you practice the execution of your evidence when you rehearse your speech.


The final stage of using support effectively is the one which many speakers forget: analysis of the support. Too often speakers use support without ever explaining to an audience how they should interpret it. While we don’t want to “talk down” to our listeners, audiences often need to be shown the connection between the support provided and the argument made. Here are three basic steps you can take to ensure your audience will make the connection between your support and your argument:

  1. Summarize the support in your own words (unless you started with a summary).
  2. Specifically tell your audience how the support relates to the argument.
  3. Draw a sensible conclusion based on your support. We cannot leave an audience hanging, so drawing a conclusion helps complete the support package.

Key Takeaways

  • Systematically think through the support you have accumulated through your research. Examine the accumulated support to ensure that a variety of forms of support are used. Choose appropriate forms of support depending on the speech context or audience. Make sure all the support is relevant to the specific purpose of your speech and to your audience. Don’t go overboard using so much support that the audience is overwhelmed. Lastly, don’t manipulate supporting materials.
  • Speakers ultimately turn support materials into one of five formats. Quotations are used to take another speaker or author’s ideas and relay them verbatim. Paraphrases take a small portion of a source and use one’s own words to simplify and clarify the central idea. Summaries are used to condense an entire source into a short explanation of the source’s central idea. Numerical support is used to quantify information from a source. Pictographic support helps audience members both see and hear the idea being expressed by a source.
  • Use a reverse outline to ensure that all the main ideas are thoroughly supported. Start with the basic conclusion and then work backward to ensure that the argument is supported at every point of the speech.
  • Every claim within a speech should be supported. While some experts can get away with not supporting every claim, nonexperts must show they have done their homework.
  • To present support in a speech, use a three-step process: setup, execution, and analysis. The setup explains who the speaker or author is and provides the name of the source and other relevant bibliographic information to the audience. The execution is the actual delivery of the support. Lastly, a speaker needs to provide analysis explaining how an audience should interpret the support provided.


  1. Choose and analyze a speech from the top one hundred speeches given during the twentieth century (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/top100speechesall.html). How does this speaker go through the three-step process for using support?
  2. Think about your upcoming speech and audience. What forms of support could you use to enhance your speech? Why did you select those options? Could you use other options?
  3. As you prepare your next speech, script out how you will use the three-step process for ensuring that all your support is used effectively.

This is a derivative of Stand up, Speak out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.