Three Rhetorical Devices for Your Public Speaking

Rhetorical devices are public speaking techniques that have historically made speeches more compelling. By “historically,” I mean:

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Circa 500 BC

Still used today, we’ll examine three simple rhetorical devices to advance your public speaking: anaphora, antithesis, and concessio.

Anaphora

To quote Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs, Anaphora is: “A figure that repeats the first word in succeeding phrases or clauses (Heinrichs 385).”

Here are some examples:

“…we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

-Winston Churchill, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” (1940)

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And folly — doctor-like — controlling skill,

And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,

And captive good attending captain ill…”

-William Shakespeare, “Sonnet No. 66” (1609~)

“To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family; it takes teachers; it takes clergy; it takes business people; it takes community leaders; it takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.”

-Hillary Clinton, “DNC Address” (1996)

Antithesis

Antithesis takes advantage of the distinct memorability of opposites in the human mind. It is defined as: “Two opposite ideas are put together in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect” (literarydevices.net).

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

-Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address” (1863)

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”

-John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)

Concessio

I’ll define concessio in three words: “concession and counterpoint.” Unlike the previous two devices, which make your words more resonant, concessio serves a unique function: showing understanding but continuing the debate. A speaker who illustrates that he understands the other side before disagreeing gains credibility.

I’ll explain these because they’re a bit more subtle:

“An individual does have their own right to freedom, but medical evidence proves that second hand smoking is harmful. Nobody has the right to harm the health of another…”

-Literarydevices.net

The speaker clarifies they do not disagree with their opponent about an individual’s rights, but continues to press their claim about smoking.

“She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

The speaker concedes no crime has technically been committed but illustrates that the girl is being treated like a criminal regardless.

“One I believe this is true about those resolutions: There was a call for a Convention to form a Republican party at Springfield… Now, about this story that Judge Douglas tells of Trumbull bargaining to sell out the old Democratic party… I know there is no substance to it”

-Abraham Lincoln, “First Lincoln-Douglas Debate” (1858)

Lincoln goes over an opponent’s description of past events, conceding some items are accurately reported but others are falsified. This is more reasonable than blindly denying everything.

In the words of my high school English teacher, a rhetorical device is to your speech what a spice is to your food. If you add a few to your dish, it improves the meal. If you add too many, it tastes worse.

So sprinkle these into your next speech, and see if heads start to nod.

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Interested in a wide variety of things — you may catch me jumping from writing about fiction to derivatives trading.

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