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The Art of Persuasion: Learn to Improve Your Public Speaking with These 6 Rhetorical Devices

If you have to give a public presentation, you’re probably hoping to convince your audience of something or make them feel something. Maybe you want them to purchase a product or service. Maybe you want them to change their lifestyle. Maybe you just want to get them to laugh. Whatever your goal, you may miss the mark if you aren’t confident in your delivery.

If you don’t look and sound like you believe what you’re saying, they won’t be convinced. One way to improve your public speaking is to use rhetorical devices. These are ways of using words to convey meaning, persuade or evoke emotion. Skilled orators like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. used them well. While there are many rhetorical devices, we will look at six of the most common. Use some of them in conjunction with presentation software with intelligence the next time you have to make a speech.

Metaphor

This is one of the most common rhetorical devices. It refers to an analogy which compares one idea to another to suggest a similarity. With a metaphor, you say one thing is another when it really isn’t. Taken literally, most metaphors would seem quite ridiculous. For example, King said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Simile

This is also a comparison but instead of saying one thing is another, you make the comparison using “like” or “as”. Another sentence from King can be used to illustrate this: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Anadiplosis

The name of this rhetorical device may be less well known than the simile or the metaphor but you’ve probably heard it being executed. It is simply when the last word or term of a sentence, phrase or clause is repeated at the beginning of the next one. A Jesse Jackson quote can be used here: “Suffering breeds character; character breeds faith; in the end faith will not disappoint.”

Hyperbole

 This is simply a deliberate exaggeration. This quote from Mark Twain is an example: “I was helpless. I did not know what in the world to do. I was quaking from head to foot and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far.” Used well and sparingly, hyperbole can draw listeners’ attention to key points of your speech.

Alliteration

This is the repetition of the letter sound of the first syllable of each phrase or word to grab the listener’s attention. For example, former President Barack Obama said: “They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.” Statements with alliteration are often quite memorable.

Asyndeton 

This is when the speaker leaves out conjunctions in key sentences, thereby increasing the tempo of the sentence and focusing on one idea. Think of when Abraham Lincoln said, “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

These are just some of the devices you can use to help persuade listeners the next time you give a speech.  Use them correctly and you can guarantee your audience will be listening to a little more closely.

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