The power of poetry in public speaking

Getting Your ‘Wordsworth’: Poetry in Public Speaking

Expression is the heart and soul of good oration. To express is to impress, and thus, by using the powerful tool of poetry in public speaking, one will impactfully resonate with their audience.

To be able to inculcate poetry in one’s speech is both, an art, and a skill. Its effective use can elegantly sway public opinion by gently yet emphatically conveying one’s point across.

The benefits of using verse in speech are innumerable. These include the following:

The Power of Poetry in Public Speaking:

1. Breaking the Monotony:

The fact of the matter is that the human mind is a wanderer—ever so restless. One can never get it to focus on a particular subject for a long period of time unless there’s a break in this monotony.

Poetry adds a fresher element to your speech by breaking the pre-existing flow and resulting in the addition of a newer dimension. This automatically captures and sustains your audience’s attention

2. Familiar-Unfamiliar:

Familiar poetic references create an impact

The use of familiar poetic references, kindles familiar memories and associations thereby strengthening the connection between the spoken word and its listeners.

Whether it’s through schooling or reading for pleasure, we’ve all come across, gotten acquainted with, and perhaps even quoted some of history’s greatest poems.

By adding a familiar poem–be it a simple, ‘roses are red, violets are blue’ or an iconic ‘miles to go before I sleep’, a listener can delve into the subject matter even further and understand what the speaker is trying to convey, better.

3. Leaving Your Mark:

how poetry leaves an impact on listeners

Poetry forms an effective arsenal in one’s presentation. It adds clarity, emphasis, and depth to the spoken word, thus creating an impactful performance.

Additionally, the use of such poetic devices results in the establishment of a strong influence that directly settles in the minds of the listeners.

Stay with us and scroll down below for our detailed explanation of the types and usage of poetic devices.

4. A ‘Fun’tastic Element:

Poetry can add an air of literary elegance through wit and tongue-in-cheek humour. This also adds a lot of class to one’s presentation.

Wit involves intelligently recognising, perceiving, and conveying ideas that result in hilarity and pleasure.

These definitely add to the element of surprise and are constantly used as methods to retain one’s audience’s attention.

Shakespeare was known to have loved his jokes. Take his sonnets, for instance, which are replete with dollops of wit, humour, and sarcasm:

You can read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 135 to experience this.

5. Fill in the Gaps:

“Even in a few lines, a poem outlines a perceptual world. A reader or listener fills in the gaps, adding another dimension.”

Christine Stewart

In 2015, author, poet, essayist, and teacher, Christine Stewart delivered a stunning and resonating TED Talk which would definitely send a shiver down your spine.

She highlights how poetry can actually be used to create a new perspective as well as use the poem as a ‘springboard for reflection.’

 Here both, the listener, and the speaker delve into analysing and evaluating various perspectives to get a complete understanding of the subject.

Related Article: How to Harness the Power of Pausing in Public Speaking

 6. Succinct Presentation:

poetry helps you present information in a refined manner

Poetry helps you in being concise.

It helps one ‘package’ one’s thoughts and material in a crisp, refined, and composed manner without it being too heavy for the listeners.

Thus, with poetry, you not only establish a deep connection with the imagination of your listeners but also present it succinctly, leaving a greater impact.

Though one may feel ‘poetically challenged’ as most of us aren’t erudite scholars, utilizing the power of verse isn’t as difficult when one tries to do parallels between one’s honest intent of speech and similar poetically expressed thoughts in published work. 

Here are a few pointers to help get the hang of this technique:

Procuring Poetic Prowess in Your Presentation:

1. Reading Between the Lines:

interpreting poetry is essential

Thoroughly and accurately interpreting poetry is often considered to be a difficult task due to the very structure and nature of poetry.

This is because poetry involves the compression of heaps of information, depicted in just a few words, replete with metaphors and other literary devices, thus requiring a lot of attention to detail and prerequisite knowledge with respect to structure, form, devices, meters, rhythm, and language.

Before we recite the lines of any poem in our speech, we must understand the crux of the matter. What you see is not what you get, especially when it comes to poetry.

Every word so mentioned has to be broken down and analysed before incorporating it into your speech.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice! :

practice is the key to effective delivery of poetry in your speech

No skill in the world could ever be mastered without practice. The key to its effective and efficient delivery is that of confidence.

This confidence comes from practicing these lines several times, out loud. It is important to completely understand the musicality of the flow of the poem. This understanding builds with practice.

Understanding your material and delivering it correctly and confidently is what makes you an effective public speaker.

3. Read & Repeat :

memorising your poem is necessary for effective delivery while public speaking

The conveyance of a message in poetry relies heavily on the sequence of the words so chosen. 

Thus, a crucial aspect to keep in mind is being extremely well-versed with the poem you recite. Every character needs to be memorized and retained–including the commas, periods, and pauses. These are equally important.

It is also essential to memorize the rhythm and flow of the poem. This needs to be carefully understood and practiced. Thus, attention needs to be paid to all these aspects.

4. Go With Your Flow:

rhythm, measures and meters in poetry are important

In poetry, the concept of rhythm, measures, and meters are highly prominent, as compared to say, a normal conversation.

This is because the emphasis is to be given to certain words to bring out the true emotions and expressions that one is trying to convey.

This is where stressed and unstressed syllables come to play. They form the backbone of the establishment of the poetic rhythm.

To further understand this concept, do check this out:

5. Modulate to Innovate:

voice modulation is a technique that  needs to be honed for effective public speaking.

Masterful public speakers are consummate actors. They are astute in controlling and harmonizing every quiver in their voice with their facial emotions.

Delivery of poetry is incomplete without modulation of your voice. Every tone and sound is to be planned and orchestrated, which comes from an in-depth understanding of the topic.

It is this technique that immediately attracts and captures the attention of the audience towards you and thus, needs to be honed well.

The tone of the poem depicts and reflects the attitude of the poet. Thus, this ultimately becomes make or break when it comes to determining if your content will be effective and impactful enough for your listeners.

Related Article: All You Need to Know About Voice Modulation & Tonality for Public Speaking

Understanding Poetry: Poetic Devices to Enhance Your Next Speech

Poetic devices form the core of any poem. They are tools that are employed in a poem to add meaning, emotion, structure, and rhythm to it.

These are the most crucial ingredients required for the recipe of a successful poem and add heaps of texture and flavour to it.

The more we study and identify poems, the better we’ll be able to understand and incorporate these poetic devices.

The usage of poetic devices lets you engage with your listeners, and ensure that they remain engrossed throughout your speech.

Examples of Poetic Devices used in Pop Culture:

Films, TV shows, and other categories of pop culture heavily rely on the employment of poetic devices to captivate their audiences.

For example, the rhetoric device of anadiplosis (repetition of the last word of a sentence as the beginning of the following one) is evident when legendary Jedi Master, Yoda (in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace [Episode I], 1999) says:

The movie, 'Star Wars' features various poetic devices in its script

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

You can also notice the use of alliteration (repetition of same-sounding letters or words) in ‘V For Vendetta’ (2005), one of my favourite movies of all time, written by The Wachowskis.

This celebrated monologue was delivered by the title character, V, as his introduction, portrayed by British actor, Hugo Weaving.

The movie, 'V for Vendetta', uses the poetic device of alliteration in its legendary monologue

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi now vacant, vanished.

However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.

The only verdict is vengeance—a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.”

What adds to the legacy of this movie is its unequalled writing, jam-packed with the use of poetic devices. This is how one employs these devices to put a spell on their audience.

Examples of Poetic Devices used in Speeches:

  1. Asyndeton deliberately excludes the usage of conjunctions in a sentence to emphasise on its meaning.

“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
  1. Tricolon represents three words, clauses, or phrases placed adjacently.

“Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advice for public speakers

                                

  1. A metaphor gives one the liberty to describe an object/ subject with another unrelated one; where no relationship exists between the two.

The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

– John F. Kennedy

                                                                                     

Here’s a list of some more commonly used poetic devices with examples:

1. Assonance:

This poetic device involves the continuous occurrence of the vowel sound to create an internal rhyme.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55:

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

But you shall shine more bright in these contents…

2. Imagery:

Involves a detailed description of subjects which paints a picture through our imagination.

William Wordsworth’s Daffodils {visual imagery}

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Rain in Summer {olfactory imagery}

They silently inhale

the clover-scented gale,

And the vapors that arise

From the well-watered and smoking soil

3. Onomatopoeia:

Onomatopoeia involves the structural derivation of a word from the sound it describes.

For example, the words Boom, Meow, Oink–all phonetically resemble the sound they describe.

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Bells

Oh, the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

Of Despair!

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

By the twanging,

And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

In the jangling,

And the wrangling.

4. Refrain:

Refrain refers to a single or a group of lines that are repeated throughout the course of the poem. 

Octavio Paz’s Wind, Water, Stone

Water hollows stone,

wind scatters water,

stone stops the wind.

Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,

stone’s a cup of water,

water escapes and is wind.

Stone, wind, water.

5. Personification:

This poetic device adds character and life (human form) to otherwise, inanimate objects.

Sylvia Plath’s Mirror

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful ‚

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Thus, poetic devices can be used to add character to your next speech. Be mindful of using them appropriately in the correct context, so as to not confuse your listeners.

Most importantly, study and identify the poetic devices in your material so that you can coherently convey its meaning. These techniques will unquestionably charm your audience.

Introducing Poetry in Your Speech: Set the Tone, but Don’t Make it Known

The introduction is pivotal, especially in this scenario. Consider it as a make-or-break. The success of your poem depends on how grand its build-up has been.

An ideal introduction lays the background of the poem, without revealing its main message, which should be done so, gradually by the speaker.

Take it from us, this may seem simple in theory but is actually quite a task when actually executing. But, don’t worry, we have your back.

A good introduction comes from an excellent interpretation of the poem you’re introducing. Think of it as a secret you are to keep, which you slowly reveal as you get more acquainted and connected with your audience.

It’s a journey you’re taking them on, and a good introduction just ensures the fastening of their seatbelts; not the revelation of their destination.

Your approach depends on the subject and your audience. There’s no universal, sure-shot method of introducing your speech in a foolproof manner.

In fact, many speakers delve directly into their poems without an introduction and so, in some cases, no introductions serve as an introduction in itself.

Or, you can just stick to keeping it simple and unraveling complexities bit-by-bit, through your poem.

Your introduction isn’t the interpretation, but an invitation to experience innovation.

Keep this in mind, and you’re gold. It doesn’t matter what your approach is.

Related Article: 5 Ways to End Your Speech With Maximum Impact

Opening Poetry Lines That Will Help You Make A Lasting Impression

Related Article: 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines & How to Create Your Own

creating an impression on the audience with good opening lines in a speech

We’ve heard this over and over again– The first impression is the last impression; therefore, having a great opening line is an absolute necessity.

And what better way to do so, by starting strong and quoting lines from some of history’s greatest poems.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

1. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix”

2. Robert Herrick’s To The Virgins, to Make Most of Time:

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”

3. John Keats’ Endymion:

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”

4. Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death:

“Because I could not stop for Death—

He kindly stopped for me—”

5. T.S. Eliot’s  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

“Let us go, then, you and I

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table.”

6. Alfred Noble’s The Highwayman:

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone

Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”

To help you understand the power of poetry even clearer, here are some of the greatest speeches in the world, delivered by revolutionaries who are remembered and celebrated majorly because of the resonating impact of their speeches.

Learning from the Greats:

1. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s  'I Have a Dream' speech used poetic devices that added to its legacy.

Perhaps, one of the greatest and most legendary speeches of all time, “I Have A Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. is a shining example of how poetry can bring about such an impact.

Delivered on the 28th of August, 1963, to end racism in the United States of America, “I Have A Dream” is in all probability, one of the most quoted speeches in the world, even today.

Take a look:

The most striking feature of this speech is the use of the poetic device of anaphora, which is the repetition of the same line at the beginning of a sentence.

The first 8 lines of this speech begin with “I Have A Dream”

“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. I have a dream today.”

Related: Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech Was Pure Poetry

2. Winston Churchill:

Winston Churchill's 'We Shall Fight on the Beaches' used poetic devices to create an impact.

“We Shall Fight On The Beaches” by Britain’s then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was delivered to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 4 June 1940.

Churchill too uses the poetic device of anaphora to create an impact. This is visible here:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,

We shall fight on the seas and oceans,

We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, 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.

Notice the beginning of every line with “We Shall”

It is a known fact that Churchill was considered as a “poet in the guise of a politician”, which is precisely why his speeches serve as an ideal example of how poetry can add a different dimension to public speaking.

Related Article: Churchill’s Poetic Speeches of World War II

3. John F. Kennedy:

John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech  used poetic devices to create a lasting impact.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was elected as the 35th President of the United States of America, where he delivered his iconic inaugural speech, often quoted, even today.

The rhetorical device of chiasmus being used is the most striking feature when it comes to decoding this speech.

A chiasmus divides a sentence into two parts where the second phrase is a mirror image of the first one, meaning wise.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” is a prime example of this device. Both phrases mean the same but are placed in a manner, to put further emphasise on its meaning.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of poetry is something we’ve all witnessed, experienced, and felt, at least once in our lives. The unrestricted nature of poetry is what attracts us most to it. Thus, incorporating it in our speeches transforms our material into a different ball game altogether.

It takes practice, it takes effort. We must keep in mind that in a bid to win over one’s audience by using poetry, one may also end up losing them if this skill isn’t incorporated precisely and masterfully.

 In an attempt to sound more credible and well-read, one may resort to using ‘fancy’ words which may be beyond the understanding of the general public and/or poorly interpreted lines, which may result in one’s downfall–thus, being a double-edged sword.

Ultimately, when used correctly, adding poetry to your material will enhance it and create a wonderful impression. It gives you your words’ worth.

Anoushka Sivasankar is a media student passionate about writing and content creation. An avid musician and no stranger to the stage, Anoushka is always up for a food adventure and addicted to her chai. Is also known for her ability to quote ‘The Office’ in any given situation.