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Beyond “For Example” – Effective Ways to Illustrate Your Point

We’ve all been in that situation – trying to explain a complex concept or idea but realizing that simply saying “for example” isn’t quite cutting it. As communicators, we need a toolkit of phrases to draw from to bring concepts to life and help our listeners understand. In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite alternatives to “for example” that I’ve found to be highly effective.

“For Instance” Makes it More Personal

Early in my career, I struggled with keeping presentations engaging. I tended to rely too heavily on vague statements followed by “for example”.

My mentor Richard once gave me a piece of advice that completely changed the way I viewed using examples in presentations. He explained that saying “for instance” helps create a more intimate experience for the audience compared to just “tossing out” examples.

When you use that phrase, it’s like you’re inviting the listeners to join you on a journey of discovery as the example is revealed. Rather than you solely providing the example from on high, “for instance” engages them more personally by bringing them into the example alongside you. After Richard pointed that out, I realized how important it was to make examples feel like collaborative learning experiences rather than just information being broadcast at the audience.

“To Give You an Idea” Levels Sets Expectations

When teaching new concepts, I find it’s important to set the right expectations up front. Jumping right into complex examples risks losing people. That’s where the phrase “to give you an idea” comes in so handy.

Take explaining a difficult mathematical concept. I might start by saying “to give you an idea of how this works…”. This cues listeners that I’m about to provide a simple preview example before diving into the full explanation. It helps them understand what’s coming at a high level.

I also like using “to give you an idea” when syntehsizing things at the end. For example, wrapping up a design project discussion by saying “to give you an idea of next steps, here are a few key things we should consider…”. It appropriately frames the conclusion without being too definitive.

Setting expectations is so important for comprehension. “To give you an idea” achieves that while keeping the tone upbeat and approachable.

“As Proof” Solidifies an Argument

When trying to convince skeptics or drive a strong argument, I find examples labeled “as proof” to be highly persuasive. It signals that what follows is concrete evidence supporting the point being made.

During one leadership offsite that I was facilitating, one group got stuck in a particularly tense debate about a proposed strategic change. Emotions were running high as they argued the merits back and forth.

In an effort to break through the impasse, I introduced a specific example, saying something along the lines of “As evidence that this approach has proven effective in another organization, I think this case study is instructive.” By framing the subsequent case study explanation as “proof” that silenced doubts, it helped shift perspectives and open minds to seeing the potential in what had been a contentious issue.

Framing the example in that way as definitive evidence seemed to significantly impact the discussion by providing a fact-based rationale to help convince the skeptics.

“Suppose That” Sparks Imagination

A phrase I find especially good for sparking creativity and problem-solving is “suppose that”. Rather than just instructing an idea, it invites hypothetical thinking.

For example, when brainstorming new product concepts, I’ll pose suggestions like “suppose that we created a feature allowing users to…” or “suppose that technology advanced so our device could…”. Framing options this way stimulates “what if” scenarious.

The phrase “suppose that” also lends itself well to walking trainees through hypothetical scenarios during team training sessions. As a way to stimulate critical thinking and problem-solving skills, I’ll first set the stage by describing a challenging but realistic situation my teams may face. I’ll then follow up by prompting something like, “Imagine if this were to occur. If we suppose that came to pass, what actions may help address or work through the issue?”

This framework of posing a scenario and asking teams to suppose it into reality has the effect of fully immersing participants into contemplating solutions as if the simulation were unfolding before them. It engages them far beyond a purely conceptual discussion by dropping them directly into the simulated experience – a technique I’ve found highly valuable for enhancing learning and retention of best practices.

“Imagine…” Transports the Mind

Similar to “suppose that”, the simple word “imagine” unleashes tremendous creative potential. When combined with vivid descriptors, it draws listeners mentally into new environments or scenarios.

For example, when pitching a destination to travel clients, I’ll say “imagine waking up to views of majestic mountains rising above misty valleys…” and describe the sights, sounds and cultural experiences one might have. This brings the landscape to life without pictures.

I also use “imagine” for motivating teams. When kickstarting a fundraising initiative, I rallied the group by posing “imagine how you’ll feel when we surpass our goal and see the impact of projects funded.” Envisioning success can be a powerful driver.

Perhaps the best part is that “imagine” statements cost nothing yet yield so much. A few carefully chosen words transport people right to the heart of an idea, problem or opportunity. Their minds do the heavy creative lifting instead.

“Pretend that…” Lights a Fire Under Action

While “imagine” sparks ideas, I’ve found “pretend that” more effectively ignites action. There’s a playfulness but also implied reality to it that motivates behavior.

During strategic planning offsites that I facilitate, I find the phrase “pretend that” useful for fully involving attendees in envisioning potential future scenarios we are working to design. For example, I may say something like “Let’s do a speculative exercise.

Pretend it is one year in the future and our new initiative just launched. What types of key metrics would you want to track to measure its success?” This framework of pretending to be in the hypothetical future scenario has the effect of spurring energetic present-moment brainstorming as participants are prompted to speculate solutions.

Rather than passively listening to a presented plan, using this “pretend that” technique plunges them directly into engaged contemplation of strategies and solutions from the driver’s seat of our envisioned future landscape. It is an interactive approach I have found highly valuable for optimizing strategic offsite discussions.

“To Show You What I Mean…” Clarifies Confusion

All of us will encounter moments where an explanation just isn’t comprehensible no matter what we try. For those times, I’ve come to rely on the simple phrase “to show you what I mean” as a bridge to clarity.

Let’s say I’m explaining a financial model that’s not clicking for someone. I may say “Judging by the looks on your faces, I don’t believe I successfully communicated this point as effectively as I’d hoped. Let me back up for a moment and come at this from a different angle.” To show you what I mean, let me walk through a simplified example step-by-step.” Breaking it down eats up valuable time but prevents frustration.

I also use variations like “let me try to paint a clearer picture. To show you what I mean…” when feedback suggests an idea needs more concreteness. The wording acknowledges prior confusion while inviting a fresh perspective.

Showing is stronger than telling. “To show you what I mean” signals I’m pivoting to a demonstration sure to clear up murkiness. It has helped countless times to save explanations and understanding.

“Let’s Say…” Gets You on the Same Page

Before delving into involved discussions, I find establishing a shared frame of reference using “let’s say” leads to much smoother interactions. It aligns perspectives up front.

For example, in a client meeting around objectives, I may propose “let’s say we define success as achieving 25% growth over the next year. What milestones would ensure we’re on track?” Agreeing parameters like this unlocks productive conversation.

I also use “let’s say” to facilitate hypothetical discussions. Introducing a whiteboarding session with “let’s say it’s 2030 and technology has changed dramatically. What might our industry look like?” sets a tone of collaborative imagination.

Simple as it is, taking a brief moment to start thoughts with “let’s say” helps bring all participants mentally to the same conceptual starting point. Discussions flow much more cohesively as a result.

“Case in Point…” Makes it Relevant

When synthesizing a wealth of information, I aim to wrap key points in real-world applicability. One way I achieve this is through the phrase “case in point…”

For example, at the end of orientation for new hires, I may recap “we’ve covered a lot of theoretical best practices today. But case in point, how might these concepts influence your specific role and projects?” Connecting Discussion is a hallmark of memorable learning.

I also splice “case in point” into presentations to anchor slides in relevance to the audience. Introducing a data chart with “as you can see, customer retention is trending downward. Case in point, what could we do to strengthen loyalty in this region?” tethers abstracts to reality.

By labeling examples “case in point”, I communicate that the topic isn’t isolated knowledge. It’s directly applicable to addressing participants’ interests, challenges and situations. This leaves lasting impact.

Related: Other ways to say in conclusion

And Beyond…

Of course, this list barely scratches the surface when it comes to enriching communication beyond “for example”. Other everyday phrases I’ve found useful include:

  • “e.g.” for quickly listing common representations
  • “Such as…” for indicating a range of options
  • “In particular…” to call out especially relevant cases
  • “One instance is…” to spotlight a salient exemplar
  • “Take…” as an invitation to explore specifics
  • “Consider…” prefacing thoughts requiring deliberation
  • “Look at…” directing attention to instructive scenarios
  • “An example of this in action would be…” for bringing your concepts to life
  • “You may recall…” referencing joint experiences as a reminder

The possibilities truly are endless. Ultimately, the best approach is to thoughtfully select language fitting each context. Vary sentence structure too for engaged learning.

Perhaps the most powerful tip I can share is simply focusing outward – put yourself in listeners’ shoes. Consider how to construct explanations, arguments or discussions in a way maximizing understanding and participation.

When we approach communication with empathy, prioritizing the audience experience above all, it unleashes creativity to share ideas in memorable, impactful ways. I hope these suggestions prove helpful in your own work connecting with others. Keep exploring – your unique phrasing is out there waiting!

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