5 Ways To Use Examples For Stronger Communications

two heads exchanging thoughts

Whether it’s a two-minute media interview or a 20-minute presentation, the ability to quickly convey your message to your audience is key.

But, what if you are talking about a complicated or complex subject, such as educational reform, or an abstract concept like the expansion of the universe? How do you best use the time to ensure that you connect with the audience, help them better understand, and bring them to your way of thinking?

What if a reporter pushes back on your points? How do you counter the criticism quickly and effectively and get the interview on track?

In all instances, there’s a tool you can use whether you are a media guest, a panelist, or a presenter, that can help you avoid long, abstract explanations and generalized statements, with the added bonus of helping your audience better understand complicated or unfamiliar subjects or concepts.

From the title of this post, you’ve probably already figured out that we’re talking about examples. An example can be many things, including a personal anecdote, a story you overheard, a case study, an illustration that demonstrates your point, an analogy, a hypothetical example that encourages your audience to imagine themselves in a situation, a meaningful statistic, or a testimonial.

Before you employ this tool, it’s best to know why examples are so effective and how best to use them. In this post, we offer five reasons that examples should be part of your communications strategy.

5 Ways Examples Make You a Better Communicator

1. Examples make the abstract concrete.

If you largely remain at the level of abstract ideas, theories, and concepts, you don’t leave your audience with much of a memory hook. You might even lose them entirely. Instead, team those abstract concepts with concrete examples.

For instance, if you only talk about the rate at which wrongful convictions occur in the United States, you’re not likely to paint a vivid picture of the problem for your audience. We tend not to have a strong emotional response to straight numbers that don’t provide any context. However, if you also shared the story of a man who spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and what it cost him, that example provides the vivid details and emotional content that makes your point concrete and stays with the audience far longer.

(Not all abstraction is ineffective. In this post, we talk about the importance of the big picture, too.)

2. Examples make the unfamiliar familiar.

When your audience is relatively unaware about the topic, most of what you say could be abstract and unfamiliar. Examples help you to make connections with what the audience does know. In this case, using analogies lets you compare two things to help your audience more quickly visualize what you are saying. You link the concepts, objects, or ideas with words such as “is like,” “behaves similarly to,” “moves like,” etc. For instance, say you are trying to explain cryptocurrency, you might say: “A bitcoin operates like a real coin, except a bitcoin is a computer file stored in a digital wallet rather than your pocket.”

In effect, you help your audience more quickly visualize what you are saying, which gives them a familiar framework within which to place and organize the new information they are receiving.

3. Examples make you more persuasive.

If your goal is to get people to act, shift their perspective, alter their behavior, or change entrenched beliefs, simply calling for change or urging someone to do something just because you said so may not be that effective. Instead, try offering concrete, hypothetical examples that encourage your audience to imagine a better future if they follow your lead, your pitch, or your recommendation. Most importantly, your example should connect what you are proposing with how it will specifically meet their needs, concerns, and hopes. Maybe you are pitching your product to a new client. Perhaps you go with something like this: “Imagine the day when you could have one system to cover your sales, payroll, purchasing, inventory, production, delivery tracking, and more, all of which you access from a single app. How many hours would you get back each day?”

People signing petitions4. Examples help with your call to action.

Effective examples tend to give an audience more information and context, two things that can strengthen your call to action. Concrete requests and definitive actions make it clear to the audience what it is that you are seeking. Can you see the difference between these two calls to action?

“If you are as passionate about bringing this clean energy initiative to our community as I am, I’m going to need your help in getting the word out.”

“To get this clean energy initiative off the ground, we need several things to happen. For example, we need volunteers who will organize and run community forums over the next several weeks, as well as contact and work with our legislators to help push this forward.”

The first was a vague request the didn’t give the audience much to latch onto. The second offered specific requests that are easier to imagine and, ultimately, carry out.

5. Examples help you to back your claims.

As a way to support or overcome skepticism about a broad claim, offer an illustration. Say you are a CEO being interviewed by a reporter, and you’ve just stated that your company supports corporate diversity and inclusion programs. The reporter calls you out on your efforts. You could say:

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are important to us. Here’s just one illustration of how we are taking our commitment seriously. During the past three years, we’ve worked with several historically black colleges and universities to establish programs for first year students and sophomores during which we meet and let them know about employment opportunities within our industry, as well as what education and training is needed to get there. There’s this pipeline of talent we know we need to identify and support to establish a diverse and inclusive workforce.”


Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

Great Examples Are All Around Us

The beauty of using examples is that they can easily be found. If you are part of an organization, an institution, a business, or a nonprofit, it’s likely you have a readily available library of case studies, anecdotes, and hypothetical examples that can help you to better illustrate, clarify, or explain the point or points you are trying to make.

As far as analogies, they are all around us, too. Remember that expanding universe? For years, scientists have used a famous analogy to describe how the universe’s galaxies are moving away from each other. They liken it to a loaf of raisin bread. As the bread rises and expands, the raisins (the galaxies) are pushed farther out, but they can’t escape the loaf. Maybe you’ll never have need of an analogy about an astronomical phenomenon, but it’s nice to know that even for complex theories about a process that’s happening light years away, an analogy is as close as your kitchen.