I am certain all of us have come across powerful speeches, novels, or presentations that left us speechless at some point. But have you wondered how the speaker or the author managed to do so?
How did they manage to make almost everyone in the audience riveted? You might have attributed this skill of captivating the audience to good public speaking, which is partially true but the other half of this lies in their use of magic tools which are referred to as rhetorical devices.
A rhetorical device is a technique that is used by a speaker or an author for conveying a particular message to the audience in such a way that it provokes an emotional response to a particular action. It is a linguistic tool, whose employment can be used to construct an argument or make an existing one more compelling.
To put it simply, rhetorical devices are devices used to spice up your conversations, work presentations, and speeches. They are often used to provoke an emotional response and make the matter of the speech more compelling, with the goal of persuading the audience.
Why are rhetorical techniques important?
Why should rhetorical devices be used? What impact do they have?
Well, here’s why,
There is one common thing between the world’s famous speeches and presentations, which is their ability to create an emotional connection with the audience. The way in which a speaker makes the audience feel is very important as that feeling will stay with the audience long after the speech or the presentation is over. This emotional response is evoked with the help of rhetorical devices.
Apart from this, rhetorical devices help you become more persuasive. It also aids in composing successful presentations and writings. It helps you make your speech crisp and improves the understanding of the audience.
Moreover, with the correct rhetorical devices, it enables you to make stronger arguments and a way of handling controversial topics. It also has a powerful impact on the audience helping them remember the ideas better through repetition or grammatical manipulation.
Most used rhetorical devices
In order to know how to use these magic tools, it is crucial to know some of these most used rhetorical devices and also its application in a speech.
This is the repetition of sounds of two or more neighboring words. This is usually used to put emphasis and to draw attention. For instance,
safety and security
Ate apples all afternoon
Repetition of the last word in a phrase at the beginning of the next phrase or sentence. For example,
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering –Yoda, Star Wars
This is repetition of words at the end of consecutive phrases/clauses. It can be termed as a specific type of repetition. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.”
The above sentence is quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a prominent essayist. Here, the words ‘What lies’ is repeated leading to the creation of a poetic effect.
In this, two opposite and contrasting ideas are juxtaposed. For example, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Here, two contrasting ideas are proposed in the same sentence in such a way that it shows the strikingly different ideas showing a compare and contrast kind of situation.
A repeated word or phrase split up by another word, to display strong emotion. Understanding it with an example,
Free at last! Free at last! Thank god we are free at last!
In this, few words are depicting an event is omitted making the readers ponder about the narrative gaps. For instance, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth…the proposition that all men are created equal.”
This is the start of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where the three dots are ellipsis points suggesting a time lapse.
This is a simple method of double negatives that present a positive statement. It is often used to express irony. This is commonly used in conversations as well.
For example, ‘She is not thin’ OR ‘You are not unfamiliar with poetry’.
This is an expression of mere exaggeration, often used to draw attention to the severity of the matter or to make a strong point. This is also frequently used in day to day language.
‘I called her a thousand times’
‘It raining cats and dogs’.
Repetition of words at the end of successive phrases for a poetic effect. An example of this could be the famous definition of democracy given by Abraham Lincoln,
“… and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Attributing human qualities to inanimate objects. It aids in a better explanation of ideas and concepts.
For instance, ‘The thunder roared in the evening’
‘The brutal wind bullied the trees compelling them into giving up their leaves’
Repetition of a word/phrase at the end of every clause. An instance of this could be a speech given by Steve Jobs where this technique is effectively used,
“Well, these are their home screens. And again, as you recall, this is the iPhone’s homescreen. This is what their contacts look like. This is what iPhone’s contacts look like.”
This is slightly different from Epiphora in the sense that the repetition of the word/phrase is at the beginning of the two or more sentences or clauses.
For instance, “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and in academia, and engineering, medicine and science. They are part of the world of tech and politics and in business. They are athletes in the Olympics and they are soldiers in the military.”
This is a small chunk of a speech made by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes awards. Here, she tries to draw attention of the audience by emphasising on the word ‘They are’ highlighting the role of women in different parts of life.
This is repetition of a word in the same sentence for more than once. For instance, “And so I’ve got voice mail how I wanna listen to it, when I wanna listen to it, in any order I wanna listen to it with visual voicemail.”
The technique of germinatio was used by Steve Jobs in his speech in order to create a compelling effect on the listeners.
These are just a few commonly used rhetorical devices from an ocean of such magic tools. (Take a guess at what device is used here!)
How to use rhetorical devices in speeches?
To know how to implement these rhetorical devices in your speech is also of utmost importance, apart from knowing them. Here’s a way of incorporating them in your speech.
1. Know the rhetorical appeals
It is important to know the types of rhetorical appeals as rhetorical devices fall into these categories. Make a rough draft and then insert rhetorical devices accordingly depending on the tone of the speech. Figure out the mode of persuasion, that is, whether it is Logos, Pathos, Ethos or Kairos.
This refers to giving logical and intellectual arguments and reasoning, supporting it with credible evidence. An example of logos can be a speech by Donald Trump, where he states a few figures regarding the illegal immigration,
“So here are just a few statistics on the human toll of illegal immigration. According to a 2011 government report, the arrests attached to the criminal alien population included an estimated 25,000 people for homicide, 42,000 for robbery, nearly 70,000 for sex offenses, and nearly 15,000 for kidnapping. In Texas alone, within the last seven years, more than a quarter-million criminal aliens have been arrested and charged with over 600,000 criminal offenses. … Sixty-three thousand Americans since 9/11 have been killed by illegal aliens. This isn’t a problem that’s going away; it’s getting bigger.”
This refers to making an appeal to the audience’s emotions. This includes using language in such a way that creates an empathetic feeling towards the speaker. Given below is an example of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” speech.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
This refers to persuading the audience about the speaker’s credibility and the fact that his arguments carry weight.
An example of this could be the speech made by Mitt Romney, senator of the United States. In this speech, accepting the presidential nominee Mitt Romney points out to the fact that his business success would prove useful if he were to take the office.
“I learned the real lessons about how America works from experience. When I was 37, I helped start a small company. My partners and I had been working for a company that was in the business of helping other businesses. So some of us had this idea that if we really believed our advice was helping companies, we should invest in companies. We should bet on ourselves and on our advice.
So we started a new business called Bain Capital…That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story. Some of the companies we helped start are names you know. An office supply company called Staples – where I’m pleased to see the Obama campaign has been shopping; The Sports Authority, which became a favorite of my sons. We started an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons that First Lady Michelle Obama rightly praised.”
This involves an appeal to the timing of the argument, meaning that the argument has to be made in a suitable context making the audience receptive to it. An instance of Kairos can be Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,
“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”
One can use these rhetorical appeals in such a way that a combination of all 4 appeals is made simultaneously.
Making the speech highly logos specific, that is giving only facts, will make the audience bored, whereas making it too pathos oriented will make the speech very emotional and lacking in rational thinking.
2. A rhetorical question
Rhetorical questions can be used to control the thoughts of the audience. These questions may have obvious answers or may not have a clear cut answer.
One technique of using such questions is inserting them in the start of the speech and then carrying on with the speech in such a way that the rhetorical question is answered in the content of your presentation.
Another way is by inserting a rhetorical question, which as an obvious answer to it at the end of the speech- making sure that the question is related to what the speech entails.
The election speech of Ronald Reagan for the 1980 presidential debate between Governor Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter, where the governor ended with a bunch of rhetorical questions is a perfect example for this,
“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”
Check it out in action, here:
3. A powerful beginning
It is rightly said that the first impression is the last impression and hence a powerful beginning is very important. To capture the audience it is important to insert some rhetorical devices at the start of your speech which create some poetic effect that helps you engage the audience. It may also include the use of diacope or anadiplosis which focus on repetition of the words of phrases creating emphasis and a strong display of emotions.
An example of anadiplosis can be:
“Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” This was used by the George W. Bush
4. A powerful end
Climax is the most important part, be it a speech or a movie! What you say in the end is what stays with the audience hence, ending the speech with impactful rhetorical devices is advisable.
These may include inserting a rhetorical question making the audience ponder a little as mentioned above. It may also include the use of Epistrophe.
For instance, while addressing the nation about terrorism George Bush ends his speech in a powerful way assuring people that he will take the necessary actions to prevent terrorism, with appropriate use of Epistrophe:
“I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.”
Watch the full speech here:
Use of rhetorical devices by Frederick Douglass
The credit for developing the basics of rhetoric goes to Aristotle and since then there has been extensive use of these literary tools. A prominent figure who is well known for his use of rhetorical devices is also Frederick Douglass, who was a slave who had escaped and went on to become an activist, author and public speaker.
He is known not only for his idea of abolition of slavery but also his superior skill of rhetoric and the art of persuading the audience. In his memoir called the ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’, a number of rhetorical devices are used to argue against the heinous act of slavery.
Here is a look at how he used some of them to make his communication all the more poewrful:
It involves persuading the audience about the author’s qualifications and credibility pointing to the fact that the speaker’s arguments carry weight.
In the memoir, Frederick Douglass talks about his first-hand experience with slavery by talking about being oblivious about his birthday unlike other people in the first chapter itself, building his ethos.
In order to make an appeal to the audience’s emotions, Douglass talks about his experience of watching his aunt being whipped by the slaveholder until she is covered in blood.
Frederick writes, ‘He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cow skin.’
Frederick talks about how animals were treated better than humans by the slaveholder.
He writes about the condition of the slaves by saying:
‘Everything depended upon the looks of the horses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mind when his horses were brought to him for use. If a horse did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it was owing to some fault of his keepers. It was painful to stand near the stable-door, and hear the various complaints against the keepers when a horse was taken out for use. To all the complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must answer never a word. Colonel Lloyd could not brook any contradiction from a slave. When he spoke, a slave must stand, listen, and tremble; and such was literally the case. I have seen Colonel Lloyd make old Barney, a man between fifty and sixty years of age, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon the cold, damp ground, and receive upon his naked and toil-worn shoulders more than thirty lashes at the time.’
In Fredrick Douglass’s speech- “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, he also makes a similar appeal through the use of ethos, pathos and logos. To begin with, he makes an appeal to ethos, by initiating his speech with modesty and meekness. For example,
“He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have.”
To steer emotions among the audience, he also uses metaphors such as “A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic.“
“From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen.” This is an example of an extended metaphor where he is comparing the United States to a ship at sea and the dark and threatening clouds are compared to the ongoing threats and troubles.
There has also been use of simile, where the speaker makes a direct comparison of the slaves to animals sold in the market. For example, “I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine.”
Other Rhetorical Devices used by Douglas
Moreover, through the phrase ‘doleful wail of fettered humanity’ the speaker is trying to give the human quality of being fettered to an abstract noun of humanity, pointing out to the use of personification.
Apart from these rhetorical devices, Frederick Douglass also uses rhetorical questions to make the audience ponder about the situation of slavery by asking them,
“Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? Or is it in the temple?”
“What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a tract of land, in which no mention of land was made?”
Another important rhetorical device used by him was that of allusion. Allusion is when the author or the speaker refers to an event, object, person or to a work of art either directly or indirectly. In his speech, Frederick alludes to biblical material, knowing that the audience mostly comprises of Christians.
For instance, “The arm of the Lord is not shortened, and the doom of slavery is certain.” Through this, the speaker makes an analogy between the Lord sending the Israelites back to their homeland and the hope that slavery will perish. Frederick Douglass has made such allusions in order to support his arguments, knowing that words from the bible would carry weight and have a strong impact.
Use of rhetorical devices in famous speeches
1. Michelle Obama – Anaphora
“I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children – not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection but every child who needs a champion: Kids who take the long way to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who wonder how they’ll ever afford college. Kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English but dream of a better life. Kids who look to us to determine who and what they can be.”
This is a small part of a speech made by Michelle Obama. In this, it is seen the word “Kids” is used more than once to start sentences that follow each other, pointing out to the use of anaphora.
Here’s the video for the speech made by the former first lady:
2. Steve Jobs – Germination
“That’s 58 songs every second of every minute of every hour of every day.”
This is an instance from the speech of Steve Jobs, where he puts emphasis on the word “every” by repeating it frequently in the same sentence.
See the entire speech here:
3. Barack Obama – Antistrophe
“It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.”
Here, the phrase “Yes, we can” is used repeatedly at the end of every sentence in order to put emphasis on the subject.
Watch the video of the speech here:
4. Martin Luther King, Jr – Antithesis
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Here, the speaker uses antithesis by inverting the statements to show that America will have a day when people are judged by their character and not their skin colour.
Given below is the historic speech made at the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King Jr:
5. John Kennedy – Ellipsis
“This much we pledge — and more.”
Here the former President uses “and more” instead of listing more ideas. He also compels the audience to keep thinking about the ideas they should pledge to, instead of listing them.
In order to use a wide variety of rhetorical devices, it is important to know the different types of these literary techniques.
A powerful speech is not just about a good orator or good public speaking skills but much more than that! And these rhetorical devices constitute an integral part of the components which make your speech extraordinary.