Many times thinking through your options, a better understanding of what you are doing or what you can do will strengthen and refine effective communication. “Conscious Communication” makes for more productive speaking & preaching.
Not all illustrations are the same kind or have the same purpose. When thinking of “illustrations,” it might be wise as a speaker to think about the kind-category of illustration you are using and/or the purpose for using that particular illustration.
What are you seeking to do and/or what kind of illustration will do that best?
Some illustrations . . . . .
• introduce the general topic or theme — i.e., trials in life
• clarify the point being made — i.e., analogical illustrations
• bring in an emotional connection — i.e., the story of Blue Eyes / Amy Carmichael
• exemplify & capture the BigIdea in the conclusions — i.e. “Let me close with this story . . . .”
• pull in a biblical example of a truth or principle — i.e., “We see this principle in the account of Joseph and his brothers . . . . ”
• are as simple or straight forward as a quotation — i.e. “as C.S. Lewis stated . . . . “1
• come from literature (fictional or historical) — i.e. “In Shakespear’s play . . . . ”
• are biographical — i.e., “Even the world understands that reality. In writing to his fellow scientists, Einstein states that . . . . . ”
• are analogical — i.e., Tony Evans
• are suppositional/hypothetical — i.e., “Imagine that you are . . . . “
AND . . . . some illustrations make an argument.
There is rhetorical and practical value in recognizing what you are doing when employing an illustration and in understanding what you are seeking to accomplish by that kind of illustration.
Knowing what kind of illustration you are building or using helps . . . .
• orient or position the speaker’s mind in knowing what this “chunk” of rhetorical context is seeking to accomplish
• the speaker stay on point
• the audience follow
• keep the selected content of the illustration, the focus of the illustration.
In this case, it is helpful to say to yourself (if not in actual words to the audience) — “Let me argue that point of view (or that position / or that understanding) for a moment.”
Some illustrations are designed to “make the argument” being made at the moment. I was listening to Malcomb Gladwell being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. I was again reminded how illustrations differ in kind and in purpose.
I thought — “I’m going to cite Gladwell next time I deal with this serious societal issue! It would be a powerful illustration!”
I was also reminded that it is a different kind of illustration and this kind of illustration has a different purpose.
The argument taken from that interview can be heightened by citing Gladwell’s credentials and/or Winfrey’s new-age religious beliefs. In fact, rhetorically, I might take a minute to map out their secular and/or religious background.
In using this interview, one would be taking their words to illustrate a point. However, it is an argumentative illustration — the illustration is designed to argue a position which is being staked out in a sermon.
Here is a transcript of that interview . . . . (audio link)
Oprah: The Stanford rape case . . . can we talk about that
THE MOST TALKED-ABOUT PART OF THE BOOK,
AND IT WAS REALLY HARD TO WRITE ABOUT.
SO THAT WAS THE CASE WHERE… HAPPENED A COUPLE YEARS AGO.
A FRESHMAN AT STANFORD, A BOY, MEETS A WOMAN AT A FRAT PARTY.
THEY’RE BOTH VERY, VERY DRUNK, AND HE TAKES HER OUTSIDE,
AND HE SEXUALLY ASSAULTS HER, AND HE’S DISCOVERED,
AND HE’S TRIED, AND HE SPENT SIX MONTHS IN JAIL.
HUGELY CONTROVERSIAL CASE AT THE TIME,
AND PARTICULARLY BECAUSE IT IS ONE OF THOSE SIGNATURE CASES
THAT HAS THROWN A SPOTLIGHT ON JUST HOW MUCH,
HOW BIG A PROBLEM SEXUAL ASSAULT NOW IS ON CAMPUS.
AND I WAS INTERESTED IN ONE SPECIFIC PART OF THAT CASE,
WHICH IS, “TO WHAT EXTENT DOES ALCOHOL CONTRIBUTE
TO THIS EPIDEMIC OF SEXUAL ASSAULT?”
BECAUSE THE WEIRD THING IS THAT WHEN YOU START DIGGING
THROUGH THE CASE FILES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES,
EVERYONE’S ALWAYS DRUNK.
REALLY, REALLY HARD TO FIND A SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE
WHERE BOTH PARTIES WERE SOBER.
Oprah: YOU MEAN ON CAMPUS?
ON CAMPUS. ON CAMPUS. ON CAMPUS, YEAH.
AND SO I STARTED TO TALK TO PEOPLE
WHO STUDY SEXUAL ASSAULT ON CAMPUS
AND PEOPLE WHO STUDY ALCOHOL, AND THEY WERE LIKE,
“WELL, YES, IT’S ALMOST ALWAYS.
ALCOHOL’S ALMOST ALWAYS INVOLVED.”
AND THEY BEGIN TO TALK ME THROUGH THE RESEARCH.
“WELL, WHEN YOU DRINK.” AND BY THE WAY,
THE WAY THAT MANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INVOLVED IN THESE CASES,
AND ALSO, I MIGHT SAY, MORE GENERALLY,
THE CORE OF PEOPLE WHO ARE DRINKING ON CAMPUS
IN TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT ARE DRINKING IN A WAY THAT YOU AND I
DID NOT DRINK IN THAT AGE. DRINKING HAS CHANGED
QUITE DRAMATICALLY OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS.
Oprah: YES, WHEN I WAS JUST READING ABOUT THIS, I WAS LIKE, “EVERYBODY’S DRINKING EVERYTHING!”
TODAY, IF YOU TALK TO…
I WAS TALKING TO SOME FRIENDS OF MINE
WHO — CHILDREN OF FRIENDS OF MINE
WHO ARE IN COLLEGE RIGHT NOW, AND I SAID,
“HOW MANY OF YOUR FRIENDS HAVE EXPERIENCED BLACKOUTS?”
AND THEY JUST WERE LIKE, DOWN THE LIST,
EVERY WEEKEND, THIS GUY. WE TALK ABOUT IT.
THEY TALK ABOUT IT ON FRIDAY NIGHT BEFORE THEY GO,
ABOUT THEY’RE GOING TO GET BLACKOUT DRUNK.
IT’S A VERY DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT,
AND THAT HAS CONSEQUENCES FOR THEIR ABILITY
TO TALK TO STRANGERS.
PARTIES ARE ABOUT TALKING TO STRANGERS.
WHEN BOTH STRANGERS ARE DRUNK, IT’S A DIFFERENT CONVERSATION.
The speaker, teacher, or preacher does not need to play, repeat, or cite the entire content, but can give the context, and follow it with meaningful citations-quotations — to build the illustration.
The illustration can be used to “ARGUE” a point about the use of alcohol in our culture and society — an argument that some believers and even pastors might like not to make — I understand where we are today in American Christianity.
Even today, the danger and use of alcohol are obvious to those like Malcomb Gladwell . . . .
Voted one of the 100 most influential people
Who has published 5 New York Times Best-sellers
A renown columnist for “The New Yorker” magazine
Author of “Blink” — which sold 6 million copies / translated into 25 languages
As Gladwell states (and Winfrey concurs) alcohol is a drug, and it distorts the natural thinking processes before one is even what we designate as “drunk.” Listen to what Malcomb Gladwell says about the use of alcohol on the college campus today!
While some of the different kinds of illustrations listed above have some overlapping features — i.e., clarifying and arguing are inter-related — nevertheless, it is valuable to separate in your mind what you are seeking to accomplish with this-or-that illustration — what kind it is — what is its purpose.
Citing and quoting from the Gladwell-Winfrey interview, using the words of Gladwell to illustrate a point is primarily argumentative. While using the illustrative interview may also be seen as “clarifying,” it is clarifying in order to make an argument.