Nine Rhetorical Devices For Your Next Speech
Many speakers are good at conveying information to their audiences. But how many of them are actually interesting?
Rhetorical devices are too often cast aside as the province of the great Roman orators. They shouldn’t be. When executed well, they can spice up your speeches, presentations, even your one-on-one conversations.
Here are nine of my favorite rhetorical devices. Instead of just reading this article, try inserting a few of these devices in your next speech!
1. Alliteration: The repetition of a sound in the first syllable of each phrase. In the example below, you will see one string of three words beginning with “f,” and another with three words beginning with “d.”
“They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.” – President Barack Obama
2. Anadiplosis: The last word or phrase is repeated to begin the next.
“Suffering breeds character; character breeds faith.” – Rev. Jesse Jackson
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda
3. Antimetabole: The repetition of words or phrases in successive clauses, but in reverse order.
“Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling.” – Economist Milton Friedman
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” – Scientist Carl Sagan
4. Antithesis: A word, phrase, or sentence opposes the original proposition.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong
5. Asyndeton: Omits conjunctions, which helps to increase the tempo and highlight a specific idea.
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln
“He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.” – Jack Kerouac
6. Diacope: A repeated word or phrase split up by other words; typically used to express a strong emotion.
“Put out the light, and then put out the light.” – William Shakespeare, Othello
“For the love of God, man, for the love of God.” – Me, all the time
“You’re not fully clean unless you’re Zestfully clean.” – Zest Soap commercial
7. Litotes: You’ve probably heard this if a friend ever told you her first date was “not bad.” Litotes is essentially a double negative, expressed by denying an opposite idea; often used ironically.
“She’s no dummy” (she’s smart)
“This is no small problem” (this is a big problem)
8. Metaphor: An analogy that compares one thing or idea to another, using a term or phrase it literally isn’t to suggest similarity.
“Homeowners are the innocent bystanders in a drive-by shooting by Wall Street and Washington.” – Sen. John McCain
“It’s raining men.” – The Weather Girls
9. Simile: A comparison between two unalike things, usually using the words “as” or “like.”
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You’re as cold as ice.” – Foreigner
Do you want to learn even more ways to spice up your speeches and presentations? Become the speaker you always wanted to be with our free public speaking tips guide.
Useful list, but I’m rather surprised by your use of all these obscure Greek words to describe the techniques. I’ve been teaching people how to use rhetorical devices for more than 25 years and have found it perfectly possible to describe them in instantly accessible modern English that anyone can easily understand. For the same reason – instant accessibility so that people can benefit from using them – also did this in my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know About Making Speeches and Presentations’ http://amzn.to/g7NgAL
Thank you for your comment, and you raise a fair point. I certainly agree that jargon is lousy for all forms of communication. Would you mind sharing a few of the terms you use to replace the ancient Greek words?
I think it’s important to note that it’s not necessary to use ALL of these devices in a speech or presentation. Two similes, a bunch of alliteration and some antimetabole can be too much. It’s a presentation, not Shakespeare.
Don’t let the message get muddied in order to show how clever you are. Simplicity, in many cases, is the best rhetorical device.
Thank you for making that point – you’re exactly right. Rhetorical devices should be used to help achieve a specific purpose, such as making a key point more memorable.
Speakers should feel free to experiment with a device or two in every speech, but should be careful not to go over-the-top. If you’re unsure how many devices to use, I’d err on the side of too few (at least at first). As you suggested, a little goes a long way.
Thanks for stopping by the blog!
AWESOME AND EDUCATIONAL
I would like to point out, that I am fairly certain that your second example for alliteration, given by Martin Luther King Jr., is not alliteration at all. I believe it is actually an example of anaphora.
First commenter (Max) is clearly self promoting and not adding value here. Why say that and then not offer examples? Thank you author Brad for providing these examples and the names that are used for them.
Jack is correct! H.S. was 10 years ago for me (I took a public speaking class), but I DO recall falling in love with anaphora, particularly when I was crafting a rousing speech. It gets me FIRED UP!
BTW, is there any way in which an apposition can be qualified as a rhetorical device? I feel in love with them from about age 9– I read a lot. I do love them in informative pieces, but it would be fun to see them used convincingly in a persuasive piece. I faintly recall trying to squeeze A FEW into just one sentence for a particularly militant English professor, just to piss her off. . . IT WORKED. She loved me by the end of the semester, however.
For those who did not appreciate the technical terms for the devices. I loved It, as it helped focus my attention. I got a real kick out of it, the specific terms, the love of language for the sake of language. Mmm. A rhetorical device?