Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy
You have probably had experience of listening to a speaker who, even if you did not agree with that person's message, caused you to think, "this is an outstanding speaker." That speaker was probably using certain rhetorical devices that touched an internal chord, that made him or her sound eloquent.
Normally, such techniques are used by experienced speakers who have honed them over time. Yet you do not need to have delivered hundreds of presentations to develop ability to incorporate rhetorical techniques which add grace, forcefulness, vividness and especially eloquence to your presentation.
According to one of most oft-quoted men of 19th Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, eloquence is
"the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to person to whom you are speaking."
Note that he said nothing about speaking in polysyllabic phrases aimed less at communicating than impressing. Truly eloquent speakers use short, direct, specific language aimed a their listeners. Winston Churchill's stirring speeches during World War II are prime examples of such language.
Eloquent speakers, like Churchill and John F. Kennedy, realize that spoken word must appeal to ear more than eye, and nothing appeals more than repetition, rhythm and cadence. The eloquent presentation translates dull and colorless speech into words with punch which will be remembered.
In short, eloquence is where poetry and prose meet, where music and speech join. The means by which this is accomplished is by adroit use of figures of speech, generally referred to as rhetorical devices.
Shortcuts to eloquence
I use this phrase to describe what are normally referred to as rhetorical devices. I do so for simple reason that, adroitly employed, these techniques allow novices to appear as a very experienced speakers in perception of their audiences.
Inexperienced speakers can learn to incorporate into their presentations techniques that provide polish to what may be an otherwise pedantic effort. Below are four of these shortcuts that will let you implant your ideas into collective mind of your audience.
Shortcut one: Repetition
Perhaps most frequently used of these techniques is repetition of key words and key phrases to emphasize presenter's message. An illustrative example is famous 1963 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. known as "I have a dream" speech because he opened eight consecutive paragraphs with that phrase. Unless you believe you possess oratorical skills of Dr. King, I would refrain from going that far in a business presentation. But a more limited repeating of key phrases does indeed add power to any presentation.
In a written essay, such repetition would be redundant. In a spoken presentation, it is an invaluable asset to hammer home point you want your audience to grasp and act upon.
The King speech shows how repetition can allow a presentation to build to a crescendo. Repetition is frequently used at beginning of a presentation to gain audience's attention.
Shortcut two: The Rhythmic Triple
One again I am coining my own phrase. This technique, a variation of repetition, is generally called Rule of Three, because it repeats, in threes, key words and phrases. I prefer term rhythmic triple because this technique delivers a message with an ear-pleasing rhythm and cadence in beat of three.
The speaker using this technique drives home his or her point with three words, three sentences, three phrases. "Threes" tend to reinforce, because, for reasons no one fully understands, people remember best when they hear repetition in a series of three. Repeating twice is too little, four or more two much (unless you are a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Churchill was a great user of rhythmic triple, as when he said of Royal Air Force,
"Never in field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few
He could have said "We owe a great debt to fliers of RAF in saving of Britain." Would this phrase have been as memorable?
In July 2002, Governor Mark Schwieker of Pennsylvania used rhythmic triple in demanding an explanation about safety procedures from company that owned mine where nine miners were entombed before being miraculously rescued. The Governor said, with considerable emotion, that company owed an explanation "To miners, to their families and to me."