Use the rhetorical elements to your advantage and deliver a powerful and impactful speech!
Why are some speakers so persuasive and convincing?
Why do you feel swayed to their point of view halfway into their speech?
Why do you feel that they are able to put their arguments across so succinctly?
Besides delivery manner which constitutes 30%, content 50% which have been elaborated in the previous article ‘Why some speakers engage the audience’, this article focuses on language use which is 20% in significance yet it is of paramount importance for effective speech making and writing. Grammar, word choice, pronunciation are the important elements for a very robust content and delivery but a very useful boost to further your content quality is to use figures of speech.
A figure of speech is a language or literary device where words expressed are not literal but to suggest an image to convince your audience. It is a delightful way to express yourself. It may be a single word or a phrase. Used correctly, it can emphasize, clarify or embellish both written and spoken language.
It can make your speech music to the ears of your listeners and leave a more indelible impression on their minds about your messages. Great speakers, poets, writers and authors often employ these rhetorical devices to capture their readers and listeners’ attention. It is the secret to their success.
This writing focuses on why some speeches are so well written.
What are the common figures of speech used?
1 Alliteration-a group of words where the initial letters are the same.
‘He is a hale and hearty man’, ‘ dark and desolate’ .
Brad Henry, “ A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning.”
2 Antithesis — The use of words that are in exact opposition to each other.
Patrick Henry in the second Virginia convention on March 23rd 1775 gave a speech where he exhorted , “Give me liberty or give me death!” as his ultimatum to have the resolution passed for the Virginian troops to be delivered to the revolutionary war.
3 Euphemism– a gentle, indirect expression to substitute a word that may be considered harsh or blunt. ‘Dead’ has many euphemisms. Such as ‘passed away’, ‘passed on’. ‘bite the dust’, ‘kick the bucket’, ‘gone to heaven’, ‘ departed’.
‘Unemployed’ may be expressed as ‘in transition’, ‘in between jobs’. ‘Vertically challenged’ is used to replace ‘short’, ‘He has cold feet’ to imply he is nervous. Definitely more pleasant to hear.
4 Hyperbole– an intentional or extravagant expression to over exaggerate.
‘He looks like a million dollars! ’
‘ Don’t make me wait for an eternity!’
5 Metaphor– a term or phrase used to suggest resemblance or symbol but not literal. In short, one term IS the other unlike simile which compares similarities.
‘She is my rock of Gibraltar’ to suggest that she gives me a lot of support or I can depend on her for anything.
‘Our past is now water under the bridge’ to imply that the past is gone.
6 Personification– the attribution of a human trait to an animal, object or abstract idea.
‘Following the stock market crash, his fortunes have taken flight.’
‘Words can maim so be careful of what you say”.
7 Onomatopoeia — a word that imitating a sound that refers to the object or thing and is used for dramatic , rhetorical (language) or poetic effect.
“meow, meow, we followed the sound and found Misty the cat”
8 Simile– a phrase where two unlike things are explicitly compared. It is to show similarities between two different things. This is also referred to as an analogy or metaphor. A simile is a metaphor but a metaphor is not a simile.
‘She is fierce like a lion’ or ‘ She is sweet like a rose’.
‘like’ or ‘as’ is often used.
Jack is as slow as a snail in getting his work done.
9 Pun-a play on words that is often humourous- The word may have more than one meaning or often sound alike but different in meaning.
‘I often go to the dentist so I know the drill.’
‘He does not like Indian food but he likes to curry favor’.
‘The spread of Wuhan virus has caused protests to stop in Hong Kong and many other countries. War tension has also eased between Middle East and US. The world can rest in peace, no pun intended. Here, ‘no pun intended’ is used as a word play with two meanings because Wuhan virus not only actually caused death but peace.
10 Anaphora-repetition of a word or words at the beginning of two or more successive sentences.
This may happen if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,…..” This anaphora employed by Charles Dickens in “ The Tale of Two cities” was not only interesting but had a dramatic and remarkable emphasis on the characteristics of the “time’ involved.
11 Oxymoron– a locution( verbal expression) that is self contradictory. It consist of two words.
Examples are ‘bittersweet’ , ‘clearly confused’, ‘seriously funny’.
12 Paradox– a statement that seems contradictory but can be true.
“Less is more”
“I can resist anything but temptation” Oscar Wilde
“ What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young” George Bernard Shaw.
‘You have to be cruel to be kind’
‘More haste, less speed’
13 Idiom– an expression that means something other than the meaning of the words. Idioms are frequently used.
“ Hold your horses….I am coming now” “
“He is a hard nut to crack” to mean that he is a difficult person.
‘ To pay something with an arm and a leg’ would mean it is expensive.
14 Irony– a statement made that contradicts reality.
‘He posted on Facebook to tell the world he does not use Facebook’
‘She advises everyone to stay strong while tears well up in her eyes’.
15 Chiasmus– Two sentences are balanced against each other with the words reversed.
We eat to live and not live to eat.
We work to live and not live to work.
16 Repetition– This is a rhetorical device that uses the simple repeating of a word, a phrase or full sentences even a poetical line to emphasize its significance and make them more memorable.
“ Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”.
17 Anadiplosis– This has a typical pattern of repeating a word; it ends at the first sentence and begins at the next sentence.
“The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor. Striking story!” By David Franzoni on the movie “ Gladiator movie”.
The Power of Three in speaking and writing
The Power of Three is also known as the Rule of Three. It is about using three words or three phrases and this is optimum number. Somehow, ‘three’ is the magic number of times that have rhythm, emphasis and rhetoric that make the points listenable and stick in the audiences’ minds.
The Bible: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind ( power of three)
Churchill: “ I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat ( power of four !)
Lao Tzu: I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.
Triad of the Power of Three have been used since time immemorial. If the three words or phrases rhyme, it would be better. Add alliteration, that would be marvellous! This is the wonderful play of English words and make life worth living just listening to a great speech or reading good writing.
But in reality, this could mean a winning argument in a court case so these elements of speech content if applied properly have great power to help a client win the case, with evidence presented of course. It could mean a successful appeal for action by a speaker to the audience at an event.
Good speakers and script writers employ the use of figures of speech and the power of three to create an interesting, powerful and impactful content. Politicians use them to win votes, comedians use them to entertain and the man in the street can use them to amuse himself and others. They are engaging, intellectual and memorable.