“Our goal is to grow the company. We will grow the company by selling more policies. Growing the company is what we need to do. Your job is to help us grow the company.” [ YAWN ]
How many times have you sat through that boring presentation? Even once is too many. Can we take the same message and make it something that will keep the audience awake and engaged? You bet we can!
“Business as usual is a strategy that guarantees failure. Today we face new challenges that require three strategic responses: Growth, Growth, and Growth. We will grow our policy base. We will grow our direct written premium. And, through your efforts and dedication, we will grow your career to whatever level you want to achieve. Are you with me?”
Same message. I said, same message. But now no one is yawning or checking to see if his or her watch is still running. They are probably applauding. Why? The answer is that this version includes some simple, rhetorical devices that make the message accessible, believable, and exciting to the audience.
Rhetorical devices are linguistic structures that increase the likelihood that a message will be received and processed properly, thus convincing the listener to take a specific, desired action. How many of them have you spotted in the text above? Let’s see if we can identify them all.
- Rhetorical questions: There are several examples of how to lead your audience to a conclusion by asking a question, one they really don’t have to answer.
- Contrasts – not this, but this: The first two sentences of the third paragraph stand in clear contrast to each other and are structured so as to lead the audience to conclude that the second option is the only one.
- Triads – sets of three: The repetition of the word “growth” three times and the three sentences detailing the nature of the desired growth. This device is even more effective when the third item in the list is the longest and the one that most directly ties the audience to the desired result emotionally.
- Repetition – saying the same thing several times: Again the repetition of the word “growth” and the first two sentences of the fourth paragraph. Repetition reinforces the message and makes it more memorable. Be careful not to overdo this one.
Other rhetorical devices you can use include similes, metaphors, analogies, and anecdotes.
A simile is a device that compares one thing to another using “like” or “as.” “He is like a gnarled oak tree, standing strong and alone.”
A metaphor likens one thing to another, but more directly and does not use “like” or “as” to define the comparison. “He is a Rock of Gibraltar, upon whom all others can depend.”
An analogy is an extended metaphor, continuing the comparison over many sentences or paragraphs, in extreme cases, throughout the entire text of a speech. One of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s better known analogies is: “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
An anecdote is a short story that highlights and supports one or more aspects of the speaker’s message. Anecdotes are frequently humorous, but be careful to keep the humor appropriate to the setting and the audience.
You may combine the rhetorical devices described above in a variety of ways to help you present your message in the most memorable and engaging way. Remember, rhetoric is a tool you can use to help others see the value of your point of view and to keep your audience attentive and alert.
For more detailed information about rhetorical devices and effective public speaking in general, you may want to read Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know About Making Speeches & Presentations, by Max Atkinson, copyright 2004, Oxford University Press.