Friday, August 8, 2008

practicing figures of speech online

Many seeking to learn how to be eloquent turn to longstanding rhetorical devices, the tricks of the trade of eloquent speakers--if they know where to find them. For those who didn't study rhetoric, there's a great online resource at the American Rhetoric website: rhetorical figures of speech in sound. You'll find a box with 40 figures of speech listed; click on any of them to find it defined, illustrated with an excerpt from a famous speech and with an audio excerpt, key to hearing effective delivery. Anaphora -- the repetition of the first few words of a phrase in successive phrases -- is defined with this Adlai Stevenson convention speech outtake:
"That my heart has been troubled, that I have not sought this nomination, that I could not seek it in good conscience, that I would not seek it in honest self-appraisal, is not to say that I value it the less. Rather, it is that I revere the office of the Presidency of the United States."
In the same set of examples is a Hillary Clinton convention speech outtake from 1996:
"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."
The example adds a note asking whether you notice the alliteration in this quote, as it's another rhetorical device.

Why use these speaker tricks? Rhetorical devices don't just sound eloquent, but serve a purpose for both speaker and audience. They help you emphasize your points and build persuasive arguments, and, perhaps more important, they can help the speaker remember a speech without notes--and make it memorable for the listener as well. In the Clinton example above, the speaker already knows that each item in her list will start with "it takes," so she can focus on remembering each group mentioned--family, teachers, and so on. Audience members will hear those groups the better because, after the first two mentions, they, too, know to expect "it takes." And saying it over and over emphasizes what it takes.

I'd recommend this resource for beginning speakers looking to build a set of speaking (and speechwriting) skills--and for experienced speakers who want to fine-tune or upgrade their presentations. Don't forget to use the audio component: It lets you practice along with some of the greatest speakers in history.