Preparing Supporting Materials


DEFINITION: Main points are the major divisions of the body of a presentation.
Each main point introduces one idea, or makes one claim, that helps to advance the central idea (thesis) of the presentation.

LIMIT the number of main topics in the body of the presentation. Develop between two to five main points. Audiences often have trouble following a presentation that tries to cover too many major topics.

PHRASE main points in parallel language if possible. The similarity in wording that parallel phrasing introduces will help your audiences identify the major topics of the presentation.

STATE main points as concisely as possible. Use simple, declarative sentences to introduce each point you wish to make in the presentation.

BALANCE the development given to each main point. Each topic should receive roughly the same amount of time. If some points are developed at great length while others are just briefly noted, the presentation gives the impression that some main points are unimportant.

CONNECT each main point to the thesis of your presentation. The best way to avoid wandering off on a tangent is to ask yourself why this particular point is pertinent to the central idea of the presentation you are giving. Avoid the temptation to explore amusing facts and ideas which, while interesting in an of themselves, have very little to do with the central goal of your presentation.

USE clear transitional statements to indicate movement to a new point. Transitions alert the audience that you are finished with one point and are moving on. Without them, you risk leaving your audience behind as you advance to a new topic.


Definition: The term supporting materials refers to the information a person provides to develop and/or justify a idea that is offered for a listener’s consideration. Supporting materials serve a variety of functions in oral presentations: to clarify the speaker’s point, to emphasize the point, to make the point more interesting, and to furnish a basis that enables others to believe the speaker’s point. Without supporting materials, an oral presentation is little more than a string of assertions (claims without backing).

General Guidelines for Supporting Materials

1. Pertinence: Each piece of support should be clearly relevant to the point it is used to support.

2. Variety: The presentation should not rely excessively on one type of support (such as examples) but should instead use a number of different forms of support.

3. Amount: The presentation should include a sufficient amount of support (enough to make the ideas presented both clear and compelling to the audience).

4. Detail: Each piece of support needs to be developed to the point that audience members can both understand the item of support and can see how the item backs up the point it is used to support.

5. Appropriateness: Each piece of supporting material should meet the demands that the audience and the occasion place on the kind of material that is likely to be received favorably. A “scholarly” audience, for example, will probably place higher demands on the speaker’s sources of information than a “general” audience would. A “graphic” description of a particular topic, while entirely fitting in some occasions, might be out of place in another.

Specific Guidelines for Supporting Materials

Supporting materials are usually offered in recurring forms. Depending upon the form of support provided, you should ask yourself some questions to determine if you are making the best possible use of that kind of material:

For Examples/Narratives:
Is the example/narrative representative?
Is the example/narrative sufficiently vivid?
Is the example/narrative personalized?
If necessary, was the source cited in the speech?

For Statistics:
Is the source of the statistic reliable?
Has the source of the statistics been cited in the speech?
Has the statistic been used correctly?
Have you rounded-off complicated statistics?
Have you interpreted the statistic (explained it in another way)?
Have you done something to emphasize the statistic?
Have you used statistics sparingly?

For Testimony:
Is the source qualified to make the statement you’re quoting?
Is the quotation accurate?
Have you attributed the testimony prior to the quote?
Is the quotation brief?
Have you clearly signaled where the testimony begins and ends?
Are the source’s conclusions reasonably free from bias?

For Comparison/Contrast:
Is comparison justified?
Is the comparison meaningful?
Have you avoided overdoing the comparison?