Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Speaking to Inform Project 2 - The World of Rhetoric

How can I be a speaker who inspires; a speaker who successfully persuades the listeners; a speaker who generates enthusiasm?
These are the questions which play upon every earnest speaker’s mind.

The answer is simple. Use rhetorical techniques.
Now what is that?
Rhetoric is a way to attractively package the bland facts and deliver a speech that is memorable; a speech that creates an impact; a speech that strikes a chord with the audience.

Let me give you couple of examples.
Hamlet, a character in the Shakespeare’s play is very depressed and says “To be or not to be, that’s the question.” Now suppose instead of this Shakespeare had made him say “I can’t decide whether or to commit suicide or not”. Now tell me which one is a more powerful quote? Obviously the first one, though both mean the same.

Martin Luther King in his memorable speech said “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.” It created waves across America. But instead if he had said “I hope racial discrimination in America will disappear within a generation”. Would that have stirred the same emotions?

Effective speakers invariably make use of rhetorical techniques to get their message across.
Today I will give you three simple rhetorical techniques, which you can use in your speeches.

Let us begin with a technique called Contrast. What is a Contrast?  When you clearly bring out the difference between two things, you are creating a Contrast.

You can achieve contrast through comparison, like Aristotle who said “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies”.  Here he is achieving contrast by comparing the bravery of two persons.

Another way to bring contrast is by introducing a Pair of Opposites. As soon as he landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”.   Small step!  Giant leap!   What a stark and dramatic sounding contrasts!

Reversing the phrases is yet another way to create elegant contrast. Winston Churchill once said “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity”. Just note how effectively he has differentiated between an optimist and a pessimist by reversing the order of the words “opportunity” and “danger”.

Now let us move on to another simple technique - Question. Ask the audience a question or a series of questions.
It will reinforce your opinion. For example instead of simply stating that children are the sweetest gift to mankind, the great orator Cicero said “Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children?”

Questioning will also make the audience sit up, think and wonder what the speaker is going to say next. For example, when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain in midst of World War II, he said, “You ask, what our aim is? I can answer in one word. It is victory.”
Did you will realize that I myself have used this Questioning technique several times in this speech?

The third and the easiest technique is appropriately called the List of Three.
It can be three identical words for e.g. Three secrets of a great public speaker - Practice, Practice and Practice.
It can be three different but related words as in French revolution slogan – Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
It can be three phrases, which Mahatma Gandhi has used to define happiness. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.

Research has shown that a three-part list creates an impression of completeness.
Lists with only two items sound inadequate and so the audience waits in anticipation for the third item. Therefore keep the most important point as the third item. And don’t create a longer list. You will loose your audience’s attention. [I left out these lines, during the speech. I just forgot ! Fortunately it went unnoticed !]

Today I have talked about three simple rhetorical techniques – Contrast, Question & List of Three. Use them in your speeches to create an impact.

Some say, “I don't believe in empty rhetoric. Action Speaks Louder than Words!” Agreed! But I would add, “Words Generate Action!”  Welcome to the world of rhetoric!

[Date Delivered:  July 31 2010

  • Analyze your audience regarding your chosen subject.
  • Focus your presentation at the audience's level of knowledge.
  • Build a supporting case for each major point using information gathered through research.
  • Effectively use at least one visual aid to enhance the audience's understanding.

 Time: Five to seven minutes.

I chose this topic because I was sure everyone in the audience will be interested in knowing how to enhance their speech to make it more effective. They wouldn't be attending the meeting in first place if they were not !
The speech was based on Chapter 6, The Persuasive Power of Words from the book - Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson. Please see my review of this book in the other blog I write (Bookworm Reads)
The visual aid I used was a handout which was much appreciated by the audience.

The links to the audio/video files of some of the speeches I quoted from are :

I tried to speak as close to the original as possible. The audience liked the excerpt from Martin Luther King speech very much. ]