1, 2. Briefly show what illustrations do for a talk.
1 When a speaker uses illustrations, he actually impresses meaningful pictures on the minds of his audience. Illustrations stimulate interest and highlight important ideas. They stir up one’s thinking processes and make it easier to grasp new thoughts. Well-chosen illustrations couple intellectual appeal with emotional impact. The result is that the message is conveyed to the mind with a force that is not often possible with simple statements of fact. But this is true only if the illustrations are fitting. They must fit your material.
2 On occasion, an illustration can be used to sidestep prejudice or bias. It can sweep away objections before a controversial doctrine is introduced. For example, you might say, “No father would put his child’s hand on a hot stove as a means of punishment.” Such an illustration introducing the doctrine of “hell” would immediately make the false religious conception of “hell” repugnant and therefore more easily set aside.
3-6. From what sources may illustrations be drawn?
3 Illustrations can take many forms. They can be analogies, comparisons, contrasts, similes, metaphors, personal experiences, examples. They can be chosen from many sources. They can deal with animate or inanimate objects of creation. They can be based on occupations of the audience, on human traits or characteristics, household items, or such works of men as houses, ships, etc. Whatever illustration is used, however, it should be chosen because of the occasion and the material, not just because it is a favorite illustration of the speaker.
4 A word of caution. Do not overseason the talk with too many illustrations. Use them, but do not overuse them.
5 Proper use of illustrations is an art. It requires skill and experience. But their effectiveness cannot be overstated. To learn to use illustrations you must learn to think in terms of illustrations. As you read, note illustrations that are used. As you look at things, think of them in terms of Christian living and the ministry. For instance, if you see a potted flower that looks dry and wilted, you might think, “Friendship is like a plant. To flourish it must be watered.” Some persons today look at the moon only in terms of space travel. The Christian looks at it as God’s handiwork, a satellite of His creation, an object that endures forever, something that affects our everyday lives, causing the tides to ebb and flow.
6 In preparing a talk, if simple illustrations do not come readily to mind, check related material in the Watch Tower Society’s publications. See if illustrations are used there. Think of key words in the talk and pictures they convey to your mind. Build on these. But remember, an illustration that does not fit is worse than no illustration at all. When considering “Illustrations fit material,” which is listed on the Speech Counsel form, there are several aspects of the matter to keep in mind.
7-9. Why are simple illustrations so effective?
7 Simple. A simple illustration is easier to remember. It contributes to the line of argument rather than detracting by reason of its complicated nature. Jesus’ illustrations were often no more than a few words. (For example, see Matthew 13:31-33; 24:32, 33.) To be simple, the terminology must be understood. If an illustration needs much explanation, it is excess baggage. Discard it or simplify it.
8 Jesus used little things to explain big things, easy things to explain hard things. An illustration should be easily visualized, with not too many elements presented at one time. It should be pointed and concrete. Such illustrations are not easily misapplied.
9 An illustration is best if it is completely parallel to the material it is designed to illustrate. If some aspect of the illustration is not appropriate, it may be better not to use it. Someone will think of the inappropriate features and it will lose its effect.
10, 11. Show why the application of illustrations must be made clear.
10 Application made clear. If the application of an illustration is not made, some may get the point but many will not. The speaker must have the illustration clearly in mind and know the purpose of it. He should state simply wherein the value of the illustration lies. (See Matthew 12:10-12.)
11 An illustration can be applied in a number of ways. It can be used to establish a principle that is simply stated either before or following the illustration. It can be applied by enforcing the consequences of the argument demonstrated by the illustration. Or it can be applied just by drawing attention to the similarities of the points of the illustration to the argument.
12-14. What will help to determine what is a fitting illustration?
12 Important points emphasized. Do not use an illustration simply because you happen to think of one. Analyze the talk to know what the main points are and then select illustrations to help drive them home. If forceful illustrations are used on minor points, the audience may remember the minor points rather than the main ones. (See Matthew 18:21-35; 7:24-27.)
13 The illustration should not eclipse the argument. It might be what the audience remembers, but as the illustration comes to mind the point it was intended to highlight should also come back to mind. If it does not, the illustration has become too prominent.
14 In preparing a talk and selecting illustrations, weigh the value of the illustration in comparison to the points to be stressed. Does it reinforce these points? Does it make them stand out? Does it make the points easier to understand and remember? If not, it is not a fitting illustration.
15, 16. Explain why illustrations must fit the audience.
15 Not only must illustrations fit the material but they must be adapted to your audience. This is listed separately on the counsel form as “Illustrations fit audience.” When Nathan was called upon to correct David in his sin with Bath-sheba, he chose the illustration of a poor man and his one little lamb. (2 Sam. 12:1-6) Not only was this illustration tactful, but it fit David, since he had been a shepherd. He got the point immediately.
16 If most of the persons in the audience are elderly, illustrations should not be used that would appeal only to young persons. But to a group of college students, such illustrations might be perfectly appropriate. Sometimes illustrations can be approached from two opposite views for those in an audience, such as old and young, men and women.
17-19. For illustrations to appeal to your audience, from where should they be drawn?
17 Drawn from familiar situations. If you use things at hand in making illustrations, they will be familiar to your audience. Jesus did this. To the woman at the well he likened his life-giving qualities to water. He drew on the little things in life, not the exceptional. His illustrations readily conveyed a picture to the minds of those in his audience, or they reminded them immediately of some personal experience in their own lives. He used illustrations to teach.
18 Likewise today. Housewives may know about the business world, but you do better if you illustrate your remarks with things that are in their everyday life, their children, their household duties and items used about the home.
19 Effective too are illustrations based on something that is definitely local, native perhaps only to that particular locality. Current happenings well known in the community, such as items in the local news, are also apt if they are in good taste.
20-22. Name some pitfalls to be avoided in use of illustrations.
20 In good taste. Any illustration used should be fitting to a Bible discussion. Obviously, illustrations should not be “off-color,” that is, in regard to morals. Avoid statements with a double meaning if they might be misconstrued. A good policy to follow is: If in doubt, leave it out.
21 Illustrations should not needlessly offend any person in your audience, especially those newly associated. For this reason, it would not be good to raise doctrinal or controversial matters that are not really at issue in your discussion. For instance, you would not use an example such as blood transfusion or saluting a flag if such were not the main point of the discourse. Someone might be drawn aside and even stumbled. If a point of your talk is to discuss such matters, that is different. Then you have an opportunity to reason on them and convince your audience. But do not defeat your purpose by allowing your illustrations to prejudice your audience against the important truths that you are discussing.
22 So use discernment in selecting your illustrations. Be sure they are appropriate. They will be if they fit both your material and your audience.