Empowering Your Speech Help (page 2)
Introduction to Empowering Your Speech
The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding.
—Francis Bacon, 1561–1626
Rhetoric is the art of using words to communicate ideas. In this lesson, we will learn how to accomplish this more forcefully.
If you have tried reading a complete speech aloud, you have already discovered that word choices are important. Words that read well on the page, for example, may not speak well out loud. Similarly, a well-worded sentence can transform an ordinary statement into something extraordinary and memorable.
Good writing is a skill, and like any other skill it comes only by practice. As you rehearse your speech, pay attention to your choices of words and ask yourself whether you might be able to say things with more punch, as well as more succinctly, accurately, and memorably. After all, you want your audience to remember what you say, and there are many ways in which you can craft your wording to help them remember.
The techniques used to make speeches memorable are called rhetorical devices. They are devices or techniques used to enliven rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of using language to persuade, which is at the heart of public speaking. There are many useful rhetorical devices that can keep your audience listening to your words, but we will focus only on the major categories in this lesson.
Spoken Words versus Written Words
We have already touched upon this distinction, but it is worth considering in more detail. A college essay will generally strive for a fairly formal tone, sounding somewhat stiff but erudite. That tone, however, will not sit well with your audience if you try it out in a speech. Your audience wants you to speak to them in a fairly conversational tone, not as though you were reading from an encyclopedia.
This is not to say that your tone will be informal. It might be, depending upon the setting; some special occasions call for a very informal style, such as proposing a toast at a wedding. More frequently, however, you will want your words to be carefully crafted to sound professional while still presenting the information at a level that is suitable to the audience.
You have probably been taught in college writing classes that you should never refer to yourself in an essay, using the first person pronoun I. This is appropriate for written essays, but not for spoken speeches. An effective public speaker connects with his or her audience, and the best way to do this (as we've mentioned numerous times) is to draw from your own experiences. You will, therefore, want to refer to yourself directly from time to time during your speech.
Another important aspect of formal writing is to avoid repetition—but this is not the case in a speech. Quite the contrary, in fact. You'll remember our little axiom from Lesson 9: "Tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them." Now that's repetitive! Yet that sort of repetition is important in a speech, because absorbing information from a lecture is an entirely different process than when one is reading it. You can always flip back a few pages to re-read something in a book, but you can't do that when listening to a speech, so you'll actually be helping your audience if you reiterate your points as you go along.
Active Voice versus Passive Voice
This is a nitpicky grammatical issue that may not seem very important, but it does make a big difference in your speech. It has to do with how we use verbs, those common action words that we use everyday, such as walk, sit, and run. The active voice states who is doing the action, while the passive voice does not.
- Active: "Bill shut the door."
- Passive: "The door was shut."
Use of the passive voice tends to make a speech sound vague and indecisive, while the active voice makes it clear that the speaker knows exactly what he or she is talking about. Notice the subtle difference between these two sentences:
- The brochures should all be updated.
- The marketing department should update all the brochures.
In the first example, the speaker has merely suggested a possible idea, while the second example outlines a clear plan that specifically states who should do what. This approach sounds far more authoritative, suggesting to the audience that the speaker has thought through the issue in great detail—even though the essential information is the same!
Effective Speech Techniques - Repetition and Comparisons
Alliteration, Repetition, Sequence
Another useful technique to help your audience remember your main points it to use alliteration, the poetic technique of using words that begin with the same letter. The tongue-twister "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" uses alliteration, where all the important words in the sentence start with P. If your main points all start with the same letter, your audience is far more likely to remember them. Let's return to our toothpaste speech: we could name our major points "Cavities," "Cleansing," and "Cost." All three start with C, yet their names allow the listener to remember the gist of what you are saying at each point.
Alternatively, you could use repetition to name your major points. For example, let's return to our miniature painting speech. We could name the three major points in that speech as follows: Paint Selection; Paint Brushing; Paint and Your Miniature. This repetition of the word paint ties each point back to the topic, while also encapsulating the information of each one.
Finally, you can name your points in sequence, either numerical or alphabetical. For example, in the toothpaste speech we could name the points "Antiseptic," "Brightening," and "Cost"—A, B, C. This provides a mnemonic, or a memory-jogger, for the audience as they recall the major differences between the two toothpastes.
Metaphors and Similes
Another useful technique is the use of metaphors and similes. Both are comparisons between two things that are not typically associated with one another—where you show your audience how they actually are associated in some way, thus illustrating your principle.
A simile uses like or as to draw the comparison, thus showing that the items are similar in some way:
"My love is like a rose as it opens to your beauty, shining like the morning sun." This is a simile, because it suggests that love is similar to a rose, using the word like to draw the comparison. A metaphor, on the other hand, does not say that love is like a rose, but rather that love is a rose: "My love is a rose, fragrant and soft."
Metaphors and similes must serve a function in your speech, however. You don't want to use them just to show off; they need to further your audience's understanding of some point that you're trying to make. We used a metaphor in our painting speech: "Paint selection is the lifeblood of any painting project." This helps your audience understand that paint selection is what makes a miniature come to life, and when it's done incorrectly the entire project can wither and die.
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