Use “Pointed” Not “Pointless Illustrations”

In a talk, illustrations are word pictures that clarify, support, exemplify, or demonstrate points in the message. Basically, there are two kinds of illustrations: “pointed” and “pointless.” A pointed illustration supports the subject while a pointless one does not. Pointed illustrations further clarify the subject and lend a hand in moving listeners ever closer to a predetermined desired outcome. Pointless illustrations may be interesting to hear, but they fail in their intended mission. Ultimately, they do not support the subject or put emphasis on the predetermined desired outcome.

Pointed illustrations support and clarify some key aspect of the message and nudge the audience a step closer to the presenter’s intended goal. Years ago, I spoke to a group of career-aged singles about “Building Blocks of Good Character.” My first movement in the talk was “A Commitment to Honesty.”

Everyone has heard the expression, “Honesty is the best policy.” Nevertheless, it is easier said than done. The temptation to lie is ever before us, and, quite often, it looks like the “best” option. I recall using the following pointed illustration during the first movement of that talk. What you are about to read is a true story. It happened to me.

Title: ” Building Blocks of Good Character”

Movement One: “A Commitment to Honesty”


When was the last time you were tempted to lie? Recently, I was driving down the road listening to the radio. A great old Bon Jovi song came on, and I decided to sing along. Just as I was about to belt out the chorus, I saw the policeman. He was sitting on a motorcycle holding a radar gun that was pointed at me. I had passed a sign a way back that said 25 MPH. I immediately looked down and saw I was going 38 miles per hour. Whoops! In a moment, the red light was flashing, and I pulled over. I thought to myself, I have got to lie. I cannot just admit that I was speeding. Maybe I can convince him that his radar gun is defective. Alternatively, tell him I was just going a little bit over the speed limit. Suddenly, he was standing outside the car motioning for me to roll down my window. A hundred lies were on the tip of my tongue. The next thing I knew, he was asking me the proverbial question, “Did you know how fast you were going?” What I said next surprised us both. “I know exactly how fast I was going. When I saw you, I looked down, and the speedometer read 38MPH.” Immediately, I closed my eyes, lowered my head anticipating a tongue-lashing and a fat ticket. Shocked by my admission, he asked, “What did you say?” I repeated my confession and this time looked up at his face. To my amazement, he was smiling. Then he said, “You are the first person that hasn’t lied to me all day.” I am going to reward your honesty by not giving you the ticket you deserve. But, you have to promise me two things: First, you will not speed through here again, and second, that you will take an old person to lunch.” I could not believe my ears. I thanked him profusely, gave him my word on both counts, drove to the nearest McDonald’s and, fulfilling one promise, I took myself out to lunch. (I’m just kidding!) The following week, I really did take an old person out to lunch. Regrettably, honesty does not always pay off like this. Most often, even when you are honest, you still get the ticket, but you drive away with a clear conscience, and that night you may get a better night’s sleep.

Here is why this is a positive example of a pointed illustration. First, it supports the subject by highlighting one of the building blocks of good character, namely, “A Commitment to Honesty.” Second, it prepares students to write down the benefits of good character, which is ultimately my desired outcome. In this case, the building block is “a commitment to honesty,” and the benefit is “a clear conscience” resulting in a peaceful night’s sleep.

Dr. Gary Rodriguez is President of LeaderMetrix and author of Purpose Centered Public Speaking

Gary is committed to helping aspiring and active speakers improve their presentations skills. This is accomplished through Purpose Centered Public Speaking Workshop and personal one on one mentoring. He also offers a free public speaking phobia test and monthly newsletter to those who visit his website.

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