Last Friday, you read about the key ingredients that are common to great speeches.
Today, you will learn how to write a powerful speech that leaves a lasting impression.
Many great political leaders had talented speechwriters to help them craft powerful and memorable messages. These writers often used a formula:
A metaphor is a rhetorical device that shows how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. The speaker uses this literary figure of speech to make his arguments more persuasive.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to convince America of the dangerous spread of Soviet communism in Europe.
He chose the metaphor of the Iron Curtain to convey the powerful image of the impenetrable barrier between Western and Eastern Europe — a continent divided physically, economically and ideologically.
Although Churchill was not the first to use the metaphor, he is usually associated with it.
Another tool that speechwriters use is contrast.
President John F. Kennedy, who employed the services of America’s most gifted speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, said in one of his speeches: “Our task is not to fix the blame for the past, but to fix the course for the future.”
In his speech to Adolf Hitler, Churchill said: “You do your worst, we will do our best.”
Notice how the first and second parts of the sentence have almost exactly the same structure but communicate opposite ideas.
This creates surprise — and a memorable sound bite.
This is another rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighbouring clauses, to emphasise the speaker’s key message.
In March 1963, in his I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King Jr employed anaphora when he proclaimed: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… I have a dream that… I have a dream…”.
He repeated the four words, “I have a dream”, four times.
The opposite of anaphora, this is the repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive sentences for strong emphasis.
In 1863, at Gettysburg, President Lincoln exploited this rhetorical device very convincingly when he envisioned a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
This is a repetition of an initial sound in two or more words of a phrase.
It adds resonance to the spoken word and is also a memory aid. It was commonly used by ancient cultures with a strong tradition of story-telling.
Martin Luther King Jr used alliteration when he hoped that his four children would one day live in a nation “where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the contents of their character”.
This is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas within a parallel grammatical structure.
Kennedy said in his inaugural speech: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; but ask what you can do for your country.”
By reversing the position of the same key words in the first and second parts of a sentence — “you” and “your country”, the message of personal service and patriotism is highlighted in a clever, economical and memorable way.
The magic of three
People respond favourably to groups of three. There is a pleasing natural rhythm in phrases like: Tom, Dick or Harry; reduce, reuse, recycle; faith, hope and charity.
In his second inaugural address, Lincoln brilliantly combined the magic of three and anaphora: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right.”
In delivering speeches, President Franklin Roosevelt proffered three phrases of advice: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.”
In 1940, Churchill paid tribute to the Royal Air Force pilots for saving England, saying: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many, to so few.”
You may never be an orator like Churchill, Lincoln or Kennedy, but if you can use some of these rhetorical devices, your speeches will be brighter, more persuasive and memorable.