Using Testimony

Expert versus Peer Testimony

There are three types of testimonials that fall into the range of expert to peer testimony; knowing your audience leads to the best choice.

A testimony is a statement or endorsement given by someone who has a logical connection to the topic and who is a credible source.

Testimony can be used to either clarify or prove a point, and is often used by referring to the research of experts. For example, you could quote a study conducted by an independent auditing organization that endorses your organization’s ability to financially support current workforce levels.

There are three major types of testimonies, ranging from expert to peer testimony. They are:

  • Expert authorities
  • Celebrities and other inspirational figures
  • Antiauthorities

Expert Authorities

First, we can cite expert authorities. According to Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick, an expert is “the kind of person whose wall is covered with framed credentials: Oliver Sacks for neuroscience, Alan Greenspan for economics [well, maybe not such a great example any longer], or Stephen Hawking for physics.”

If an expert supports our position, it usually adds credibility. If we are giving a presentation on a medical issue and can find support for our position in prestigious medical reviews such as The New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet, it would probably be a good idea to cite those authorities.

Celebrities and Other Inspirational Figures

Second, we can refer to celebrities and other inspirational figures. Take the example of Oprah Winfrey recommending a book. Her recommendations influence the book-buying habits of thousands of people. Why? Because “if Oprah likes a book, it makes us more interested in that book. We trust the recommendations of people whom we want to be like,” note the Heaths.

But what if there are no ”experts” or “celebrities” to be found? Well, hold on a minute. They might be closer than you think. Do you have positive feedback from satisfied customers? Is there someone on your team (including you) with certain educational background or work experience that is relevant? If so, they (or you) might be able to provide the expertise that you seek, even if they are not widely known.

Peer (Antiauthority)

Third, we can rely on what the Heaths refer to as “antiauthorities.” This is also known as peer testimony, because it comes from a source that is neither expert nor celebrity, but similar status to the audience.

They cite the example of Pam Laffin, a mother of two who died at the age of 31 from emphysema-related lung failure caused by years of smoking. She appeared in several anti-tobacco commercials sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The commercials were difficult to watch but highly effective; Pam Laffin told a compelling story in a way that more famous people could not.

What to Consider Before Using Testimony

Before using testimony, ask:

  • Is the material quoted accurately?
  • Is the source biased, or perceived as biased?
  • Is the source competent in the field being consulted?
  • Is the information current?

In the end, your choice as to which type of testimony you use will depend on your audience.

Smokers, for example. know all of the hazards of smoking and still continue to smoke. Give them a presentation on the dangers of smoking using expert testimony and you’ll probably be met with a response like, “Yeah, but it won’t happen to me.” Use an antiauthority like Pam Laffin, however, and the response will be totally different.

Here is a young woman who probably also thought that it wouldn’t happen to her, speaking “from her grave.” Smokers can relate to her. She isn’t just a numerical figure. This type of testimony is quite effective when you’re trying to tell people the dangers of doing something.

So get to know your audience, put yourself in their place, and choose the type or combination of evidence that will make your message stick.

How to Incorporate Expert Testimony

Expert testimony can be incorporated after introducing a point of your argument.

Introduction

Once you have found experts to support your ideas, you may wonder how to incorporate their testimony into your speech. The following will give you an idea of how to incorporate expert testimony in order to support your argument and improve your speech.

What the Body of Your Speech Should Include

The body of your speech should help you elaborate and develop your main objectives clearly by using main points, subpoints, and support for your sub points. To ensure that your speech clearly communicates with your audience, try to limit both your main points and subpoints to three or four points each;this applies to your supporting points, as well. Expert testimony is considered supporting point; it is used to support the main and subpoints of your speech.

When a claim or point is made during a speech, the audience initially may be reluctant to concede or agree to the validity of the point. Often this is because the audience does not initially accept the speaker as a trustworthy authority. By incorporating expert testimony, the speaker is able to bolster their own authority to speak on the topic.

Therefore, expert testimony is commonly introduced after a claim is made. For example, if a speech makes the claim, “Manufacturing jobs have been in decline since the 1970s,” it should be followed up with expert testimony to support that claim. This testimony could take a variety of forms, such as government employment statistics or a historian who has written on a particular sector of the manufacturing industry. No matter the particular form of expert testimony, it is incorporated following a claim to defend and support that claim, thus bolstering the authority of the speaker.

Example of Incorporating Expert Testimony

Search for and watch a TED talk by Barry Schwartz, a Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College and author of numerous books in the field of psychology and economics. Notice how Schwartz references expert testimony in the course of his speech to justify his point to the audience.

Schwartz begins by showing the job description of a hospital janitor, noting that the tasks do not require interaction with other people. However, Schwartz introduces the expert testimony of actual hospital janitors as a way to complicate the apparent solo nature of janitorial work. Schwartz personalizes the experts with proper names, “Mike,” “Sharleene,” and “Luke,” and uses their testimony to demonstrate that despite the job description, janitors take social interaction to be an important part of their job.

In this instance, Schwartz incorporates the expert testimony of actual janitors as a both a foil and a support. The testimony shows that in fact janitorial work does include interaction with other people, thus foiling the initial presentation of janitorial work as solitary. In addition, Schwartz uses the testimony of these experts to show that they embody the characteristics of wisdom that Schwartz will describe in the remainder of the speech.

KEY POINTS

  • Testimonials can be obtained from expert authorities, celebrities and other inspirational figures, and antiauthorities.
  • An expert is is the kind of person whose wall is covered with framed credentials.
  • People trust the recommendations of people whom they want to be like.
  • Antiauthorities are sources of peer testimony whose source of knowledge is firsthand experience.
  • Expert testimony should be incorporated to support, defend, or explain the main point or subpoint of a speech.
  • Limiting your main points, subpoints, and support points to three or four points each improves the ability for your speech to communicate with the audience.
  • Noticing how professionals use the testimony of experts can provide creative examples for how to incorporate expert testimony into a speech.

TERMS

peer
Somebody who is, or something that is, at a level equal (to that of something else).

antiauthority
A non-authority source.

expert

A person with extensive knowledge or ability in a given subject.

TED

Technology Entertainment Design, a series of global conferences.