Episode 187: January 17, 2013
by Lisa B. Marshall
This week is a very special two-part series on figures of speech. You can find Part 1 on Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl, where I am the guest host this week. On her show, I describe five uncommon figures of speech that you can use to spice up your writing. In this episode, Part 2, I’ll talk about to how to create and use figures of speech in your speeches and presentations.
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Why Use Figurative Language?
Before I explain how to use figures of speech, I want to take a moment to talk about why it is so important to use them. If you want to be perceived as a charismatic leader, if you want to inspire, if you want to motivate others, then you should use figurative language. Why? Because figures of speech make your messages more vivid, memorable, and emotional. Interestingly, a 2005 research study revealed that the metaphoric density in presidential inaugural addresses was double the amount for charismatic versus non-charismatic U.S. presidents.
We don’t always use figures of speech in our everyday language because they require thought and planning. In fact, at times, using a rhetorical tool may even seem repetitive or somewhat awkward when written. However, when spoken, figurative language can make the difference between capturing the attention of your audience and putting them to sleep. Perhaps most importantly, figures of speech can help you make the emotional connection you need to inspire a skeptical audience to embrace a new idea. They’re a powerful persuasive tool to get your audience to act on your call to action.
How to Use Figures of Speech
In this week’s Grammar Girl episode on figures of speech, I shared some well-known examples. Classic lines such as “I am stuck on Band-aid brand, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me,” and “To err is human, to forgive divine.” These examples show the power of these rhetorical devices and how they can transform simple statements to timeless, memorable quotes.
In public speaking, it’s best if you create original figures of speech rather than using tired cliches. These may not come easily, but it’s important to try to use your creativity to convey your ideas in a new way.
For example, in my latest book, Smart Talk, I used this boring sentence in my original draft:
"Business diplomacy means sharing ideas in a helpful way."
The concept I was trying to convey was that it's the manner in which you convey your ideas that’s important. It was a critical point and needed some spice, so I tried this:
“It's the difference between sending an email or tying a note to a brick and throwing a brick through a window.”
This gave a better visual image of my message. Better, yes, but still I wanted to sharpen it up, make it more specific and visual. I realized that the way it was written emphasized not being diplomatic, but I wanted the focus to be on effective diplomacy. Here’s what ended up in the book:
“It's the difference between tying a note to a brick and sending a polite letter hand-written with a fountain pen on fancy rose-scented stationary.”
Notice that using the rhetorical tool makes the sentence longer, so you’ll want to be sure to focus adding rhetorical language to only the important points, and plan to revise them more than once. If it runs a little long, just remember to balance that in other parts that are much shorter.
Next, let’s look at three of the figures of speech we talked about in Part 1 of this series:
Anaphora uses repeated words or phrases to stir up an emotional response in the audience. We see anaphora used in political rhetoric by the most dynamic politicians.
Newly-elected Senator Elizabeth Warren’s rhetoric rallied her supporters and won her the election. In one of her most famous speeches, she uses anaphora effectively to make a direct appeal to each individual. This is a call to action made stronger by anaphora:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe...”
Spicing up a business presentation with anaphora is pretty simple. The first step is to go back through your speech and look for phrases that you want to emphasize. Say you’re a leader within your organization and you’re delivering the quarterly results. You want to inspire the team by sharing your success. The original lines might have been “This quarter our overall sales were up 10%. Specifically the widget product lines sales increased by 3% and doohickey sales increased by 4%. In addition we remained the market leader despite increased competition. Good work.”
Here’s how you could modify that using anaphora.
Because of your hard work sales were up 10% this quarter. Because of your hard work widget sales were up by 3% and doohickey sales were up by 4%. Because of your hard work, we retained our market leadership. We appreciate that hard work! Thanks!”
Can you hear how much stronger that is?
Next, we have antithesis. Antithesis uses contrasting phrases to balance out a statement. With antithesis, only a few words are needed to cover a full range of thought. I used the example “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t” in the Grammar Girl episode. Antithesis can be very effective in public speaking.
Again, it’s easy to find examples of antithesis in political rhetoric.
"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not." - Edward Kennedy
But figures of speech aren’t just for politicians. Steve Jobs knew how to use antithesis to make an important point and to keep his customers:
“It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
To use this technique, simply model others that have been successful. For example, here’s how you might model this in your marketing outreach:
“It’s not about low prices, it’s about the highest quality products.”
“It’s not about price. It’s about who provides the highest customer service.”
Finally, chiasmus is a type of antithesis that uses phrases in reverse order. In 2008, Hillary Clinton used chiasmus in a speech to convince her audience of what was really important in a presidential candidate.
"In the end, the true test is not the speeches a president delivers; it’s whether the president delivers on the speeches."
We all know John F. Kennedy’s famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
We often hear phrases like “Do you live to eat, or eat to live?” Or how about “Happiness is not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get?” These are catchy phrases that make the audience think about your message.
You can use chiasmus to make your speeches more humorous, too. For example, here’s the title of book on chiasmus by Mardy Grothe:
“Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.” – Joey Adams, comedian
In fact, I saw funny one on Twitter just yesterday:
“A real girl isn’t perfect a perfect girls isn’t real.”
My challenge to you is to take some time to really think about these examples and how using figures of speech can add color and dimension to your words. Then, for an important speech, spend some time writing original examples of anaphora, antithesis, and chiasmus. Use them in speeches, use them in your marketing materials, or in every day conversation. The more you use them, the more memorable your words will be (and the more comfortable you’ll feel using them). Finally, my most important advice is to have fun and allow yourself to unleash your creativity. This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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