We all have important messages for the world. Some of us are fortunate enough to know what they are, others of us are still learning. At some point, I’ll bet you wished you had the gift of the gab, or an ability to transform someone’s thinking. Rhetoric is the art of using language in a persuasive voice, with the goal of changing the thinking of at least one other person.Be it in the form of public speaking or a written essay, put simply, rhetoric aims to impress. Who uses it? Politicians who want your vote. Companies who want your sales. Charities that want your support. Rhetoric is the language of leaders. And an effective leader has the capacity to make change. The cool thing is, just like any other skill, rhetoric can be taught and learned. With a little practice, it can be mastered!
In his recent TEDx Talk, Simon Lancaster chants: “Let’s revive rhetoric and learn how to stand up, and speak up!!” Check out his talk here:
(Disclaimer: Please be advised his speech does contain one expletive at 16.20)
Let’s take a look at some of Simon’s favourite rhetoric techniques:
A stylistic device used in literature and poetry that intentionally eliminates conjunctions (e.g. and, but, if) in sentences and between phrases, whilst maintaining grammatical accuracy. It helps to speed up the rhythm of words, creating immediate impact and emotive emphasis on a point.
For example, “Blue skies, sun shining, birds singing – it must be Spring!”
For a list of examples, click here.
Three repetitive sentences
But why three? Because they elicit the authentic sounds of passion! In rhetoric terms, this technique is referred to as tricolon. Three similar points are delivered in quick succession without interruption to make a single powerful impression. For example, “A government of the people, for the people, by the people” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“To be or not to be, that is the question.” ~ William Shakespeare.
If the sentence sounds like it is balanced, then we imagine that the underlying thinking is balanced.
Did you know that we use metaphor once in every 16 words?! Metaphors can be used to lead people towards things, or to repel them away from things. Research suggests that changing nothing more than a metaphor in a single text can fundamentally change people’s perspective on important topics.
Consider the following examples:
It is going to be clear skies from now on. This implies that clear skies are not a threat and life is going to be without hardships.
The financial storm: Was the Global Financial Crisis really an act of nature like the metaphor suggests??
Leaders convey passion with exaggeration, also known as the use of hyperbole. This is because emotion distorts perspective, which translates into our speech.
More people believe something is true if it rhymes!! This is partly due to the capacity of rhyme to increase the processing fluency of language. It also assists the process of memorisation. Your listener leaves remembering your message. Who can forget “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
Keen for more on rhyme? The Literary Devices site has some great examples.
Did this post spark your curiosity? It’s time to challenge your learning with the following questions. Post your answers in the comment section below.
1. Consider Simon Lancaster’s improvisation using rhetoric. Can you pick where he is applying the above
2. Which techniques do you think worked best? Why?
3. What other public speaking techniques did he use? Consider pitch, tone, pace for example.
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