In this post I’ve listed a few of the rhetorical devices you’ll often find in speeches, poetry, and prose. It might not be your first thought to include them in your own works. Reconsider, because they can genuinely raise the quality of a talk and provide your audience with a richer experience.
1. Rule of three – Here’s an example that shows the power of this rule: “If you express your ideas in the form of a triad, they become more rhythmic, more dramatic, and more memorable”.
The ‘more rhythmic, more dramatic, and more memorable’ forms the triad, adhering to the rule of three. Try to use it in your own speaking. It also gives a feeling of completeness. Two points seem too few, four seem too many. Three points are often just right.
Another example is Coco Chanel’s quote, “You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life”. This is the rule of three in action with a witty reference to three different periods in a woman’s lifetime.
2. Contrast – In the book Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson and also in Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, CONTRAST is described as being one of the most powerful devices. It is contrast that gets people jumping to their feet with an ovation during a political speech, and it’s contrast that creates memorable moments and sound bites that appear in the press.
For example, Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” employs contrast with the talk of the small step vs. the giant leap, and also with man vs. mankind. You can use contrast in rhetoric and also in emotions and energy.
3. Alliteration is when we use a series of words that begin with the same letter. Again, it’s memorable and satisfying. The most extreme example of this is in tongue twisters: “If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper” etc. You can use a bit of it in your talk to create an impact, for example: “My story today involves heartbreak, hope, and happiness.”
4. Simile – You can use similes to compare two examples. Commonly known similes are “as cold as ice” or “they fought like cats and dogs.” Feel free to make up your own. They add depth to your language. However, try not to include too many clichés in your presentation.
5. Metaphor – A metaphor implies a comparison between two unconnected words. One of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is considered such a powerful speaker is his use of metaphor, using phrases like “Lonely island of poverty” or “Beautiful symphony of brotherhood”. It might be a bit over the top to pepper your 10-minute business networking talk with such poetic language, but to add a powerful metaphor every now and again will likely be much appreciated and respected by your audience.
6. Anaphora – This sounds loftier than it really is and it’s actually quite easy to incorporate in your speeches if you want to lift the energy and make a powerful impression. In practise, it means to repeat a word, or group of words, at the beginning of a sentence or phrase. It’s this device that helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech become so famous.
- “I have a dream that . . .
- I have a dream that . . .
- I have a dream that . . .”
Maybe you won’t write a speech that goes down in the history books and is as well remembered as Dr. King’s one. However, if you’re looking for ways to spice up your presentation, you can certainly do quite well with anaphora.
Imagine you’re a graphic designer giving a talk to a group of business owners. You could easily say,
“It’s my hope that every small business has access to great design.
It’s my hope that high-quality graphics will be easy and inexpensive to source.
It’s my hope that beautiful branding will one day be the norm for all”.
Not so difficult to do, and it sounds great—vibrant and dramatic. People like repetition in speeches because it gives them a chance to grab hold of what you’re saying, so don’t hesitate to use anaphora to create an impact.
Ironically, pop songs, often seen as lowbrow, are packed with anaphora. Here’s an example from Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High:
“It gets stronger in every way
It gets deeper let me say
It gets higher day by day”
Pop writers use anaphora because it makes their lyrics easy to remember and to repeat. Next time you give a talk, use this impactful device to give your words a powerful punch.
Want to find out more? Get the book How to be a DIVA at Public Speaking or download chapter 1 of the book here.