For example or for instance?

For example or for instance? Choose well

Do you use examples in your presentations? It might work against you. Perhaps you should use an instance instead.

Confused? So was I until my good friend and scholar, John Robert Colombo explained the difference so clearly.

An "instance" is an actual occurrence. An "example" is a hypothetical occurrence.

"In 1929 the stock market collapsed." That is an occurrence that actually happened. It can be discussed by historians and economists.

"Let's say the stock market collapses in 2011." This is an example of what may or might have happen. It can be imagined by commentators of all types, including historians and economists.

The distinction between instance and example is a minor one, but I find that preachers, teachers, moralists, bureaucrats, censors, politicians, etc., work in the field of "examples," whereas scientists and scholars work in the field of "instances."

In the field of public speaking and human motivation, we fear examples far more than instances. "Suppose this happens ... " is worse than "Guess what did happen."

I often think we would be a lot better off in everyday life if we ignored examples and dealt only with instances.

John Robert Colombo
Colombo & Company
Professional website Personal website
If you want to build a logical argument use instances. If you want to base your argument on emotions, use examples.

Now listen to your last or next presentation and check to see if you are using examples when instances might work better.

If you are delivering a technical presentation your credibility will be undermined if you only deal in examples.

I suspect that examples are not bad – but if your whole argument is based only on examples it might be a weak argument. Instances though based on the past ground your logic.

If you have a weak argument based on the facts, then use examples and hope nobody knows the difference between example and instance. (Of course that last sentance was an example.)

Thank you John Robert Colombo for explaining the difference.

George Torok
Executive Speech Coach
Presentation Skills Training

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

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