63 Why Supporting Materials are Needed

Learning Objectives

After studying this chapter, the student will be able to:

  1. Explain why supporting materials are necessary.
  2. List the various types of verbal supporting materials.
  3. Discuss supporting material strengths in explaining and proving ideas and arguments.
  4. Incorporate supporting materials seamlessly into the speech.
  5. Use supporting materials ethically through correct citation.
  6. Explain how perception and attention affect the speech-giving process.

Why Supporting Materials are Needed

As mentioned in previous chapters, preparing to give a presentation is not a totally linear process. It would be nice if the process was like following a recipe, but it loops back and forth as you move toward crafting something that will effectively present your ideas and research. Even as you practice, you will make small changes to your basic outline, since the way something looks on paper and the way it sounds are sometimes different. For example, long sentences may look intelligent on paper, but they are hard to say in one breath and hard for the audience to understand. You will also find it necessary to use more repetition or restatement in oral delivery.

Therefore, although this is the seventh chapter in the book, it deals with some concepts that we have already been thinking about in Chapters 2-6. Specifically, this chapter is about supporting materials: what they are, what they do, and how to use them effectively. But you have already been thinking about how to support your ideas when you were researching and crafting a central idea and main points. Supporting material also relates directly to Chapter 9, presentation aids. Whereas presentation aids are visual or auditory supporting materials, this chapter will deal with verbal supporting materials.

Using your supporting materials effectively is essential because we crave detail and specifics. Let’s say you are discussing going out to eat with a friend. You suggest a certain restaurant, and your friend makes a comment about the restaurant you have not heard before or don’t accept at face value, so you ask in some way for explanation, clarification, or proof. If she says, “Their servers are really rude,” you might ask, “What did they do?” If she says, “Their food is delicious,” you might ask what dish is good. Likewise, if she says, “The place is nasty,” you will want to know what their health rating is or why she makes this statement. We want to know specifics and are not satisfied with vagueness.

Supporting material can be thought of as the specifics that make your ideas, arguments, assertions, points, or concepts real and concrete. Sometimes supporting materials are referred to as the “meat” on the bones of the outline, but we also like to think of them as pegs you create in the audience’s mind to hang the ideas on. Another even more useful idea is to think of them as pillars or supports for a bridge (Figure 7.1). Without these supports, the bridge would just be a piece of concrete that would not hold up once cars start to cross it. Similarly, the points and arguments you are making in your speech may not hold up without the material to “support” what you are saying.

Of course, as we will see in this chapter, all supporting materials are not considered equal. Some are better at some functions or for some speeches than others. In general, there are two basic ways to think about the role of supporting materials. Either they

  1. clarify, explain, or provide specifics (and therefore understanding) for the audience, or
  2. prove and back up arguments and therefore persuade the audience. Of course, some can do both.

You might ask, how much supporting material is enough? The time you are allowed or required to speak will largely determine that. Since the supporting materials are found in the subpoints of your outline (A, B) and sub-subpoints (1, 2, etc.), you can see clearly on the outline how much you have and can omit one if time constraints demand that. However, in our experience as public speaking instructors, we find that students often struggle with having enough supporting materials. We often comment on a student’s speech that we wanted the student to answer more of the “what, where, who, how, why, when,” questions and add more description, proof, or evidence because their ideas were vague.

Students often struggle with the difference between “main idea” and “supporting idea.” For example, in this list, you will quickly recognize a commonality.




Butter Pecan

Of course, they are popular flavors of ice cream. The main idea is “Popular Flavors of Ice Cream” and the individual flavors are supporting materials to clarify the main idea; they “hold” it up for understanding and clarification. If the list were:

Rocky Road

Honey Jalapeno Pickle

Banana Split


Wildberry Lavender

you would recognize two or three as ice cream flavors (not as popular) but #2 and #5 do not seem to fit the list (Covington, 2013). But you still recognize them as types of something and infer from the list that they have to do with ice cream flavors. “Ice cream flavors” is the general subject and the flavors are the particulars.

Those examples were easy. Let’s look at this one. One of the words in this list is the general, and the rest are the particulars.






Emotion is general category, and the list here shows specific emotions. Here is another:

  • Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer.
  • Pets who live in states with high rates of spaying/neutering live longer.
  • Your pet’s health is positively affected by being spayed or neutered.
  • Spaying lessens the increased urge to roam.
  • Male pets who are neutered eliminate their chances of getting testicular and prostate cancer.

Which one is the main point (the general idea), and which are the supporting points that include evidence to prove the main point? You should see that the third bullet point (“Your pet’s health is positively affected . . .”) would be a main point or argument in a persuasive speech on spaying or neutering your pet. The basic outline for the speech might look something like this:

  1. Spaying or neutering your pet is good for public health.
  2. Spaying or neutering your pet is good for your pet’s health.
  3. Spaying or neutering your pet is good for your family’s life and budget.

Of course, each of the four supporting points in this example (“helps uterine cancer in female pets, “etc.) cannot just be made up. The speaker would need to refer to or cite reliable statistics or testimony from veterinarians, researchers, public health organizations, and humane societies. For that reason, here is the more specific support, which you would use in a speech to be ethical and credible. Notice that the italicized sections in this example Main Point use statistics and specific details to support the claims being made and provides sources.

  1. Spaying or neutering your pet is good for your pet’s health.
    1. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats, as found in the online article “Top Ten Reasons to Spay or Neuter Your Pet,” written in 2015 and posted on the website for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
    2. The article also states that pets who live in the states with the highest rates of spaying/neutering also live the longest.
      1. According to Natalie DiBlasio, writing for USA Today on May 7 of 2013, in Mississippi, the lowest-ranking state for pet longevity, 44% of the dogs are not neutered or spayed.
      2. She goes on to say that other issues affecting pet longevity have to do with climate, heartworm, and income of owners.
    3. The Human Society of America’s website features the August 2014 article, “Why You Should Spay/Neuter Your Pet,” which states that spaying lessens their urge to roam, exposure to fights with other animals, getting struck by cars, and other mishaps.
    4. Also according to the same article, male pets who are neutered eliminate their chances of getting testicular and prostate cancer.

With all the sources available to you through reliable Internet and published sources, finding information is not difficult. Recognizing supporting information from the general idea you are trying to support or prove is more difficult, as is providing adequate citation.

Along with clarifying and proving, supporting materials, especially narrative ones, also make your speech much more interesting and attention-getting. Later in the chapter we will look at the various “factors of attention” that are related to supporting material. Ultimately, you will be perceived as a more credible speaker if you provide clarifying, probative (proof-giving and logical), and interesting supporting material.

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