A rhetorical device is like a special way of using words and sentences to make people feel or think something. It’s a tool that makes speaking or writing more powerful and convincing. When you talk to someone to tell them something, convince them of something, or discuss something, you’re using these tools, even if you don’t realise it.
Here’s an example: imagine you are listening to a speech that makes you feel really powerful emotions or makes you change your mind about something. This happens because the person giving the speech used these rhetorical devices to make you feel those emotions or thoughts. By learning how to use these tools in your speeches, you can improve your public speaking and writing in a way that makes your words more powerful and convincing. In a way, it’s like learning how to use magic words to make people both understand and agree with you.
Examples of how to use rhetorical devices
Although his post is intended for public speakers, I’ve chosen a selection of rhetorical devices (note: aka figures of speech) you can use in both writing and speaking, but why? When you start to plan your public speech every part should be written down and by adding rhetorical tools to your notes you give yourself a better chance of creating a powerful speech your audience will love.
This isn’t a complete list of the devices you can use, but they are the ones I recommend you master on your journey to becoming an all-star public speaker:
Alliteration means the use of words starting with the same sound, for example, “David dipped doughnuts into this coffee”. You can use this device to make sentences in your speech sound interesting and catchy. Using this rhetorical device helps people remember the message more easily. For example, when you say words that start with the same letter one after the other, it can make what you’re saying more fun and memorable. So, it’s like a little trick that writers and speakers use to make their words sound cool and stick in your head.
Antanagoge (contradicting a negative with positive messages)
An easy way to remember the meaning of this tool is to use this metaphor (which is another tool we’ll look at soon): “Every cloud has a silver lining.” The definition of an Antanagoge is when you turn a bad situation into something not so bad by pointing out a positive side or a benefit. For example, if you say, “Even though nobody came to help me, I learned that determination can help us overcome some of the most difficult situations.” you’re using antanagoge. It’s a way of making things seem better by focusing on the positive parts, kind of like turning a frown into a smile by looking on the bright side.
Brachylogy (using incorrect punctuation, or grammar)
“Brachylogy” is a fancy word that means using as few words as possible to say something. It’s like talking or writing in a really short and simple way to get your point across. So, when you use fewer words to explain something, you’re using brachylogy. It’s like expressing yourself with the fewest words needed to make your message clear, sort of like talking in shorthand.
A metaphor is a powerful and much-used rhetorical device. Writers and speakers use them to add depth and creativity to the language they use by describing objects, events, and situations in a colourful way. Here are some examples:
“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” (Forest Gump)
“She is a ray of sunshine.”
“Life is a journey.”
In each of the above cases you’re not speaking literally, but you’re expressing an idea or sentiment. What do I mean? Here’s a translation of the three above metaphors:
Life is full of surprises
She makes people around her feel happy
Life has many twists and turns – many ups and downs – just like any journey we embark on.
Metaphors add depth and creativity to our language, making our words more engaging and relatable.
All the rhetorical devices listed above can be used in both writing and speaking. Here are a few of my favourite tools I use when speaking:
Of all the rhetorical devices you can use, alliteration is one of the most effective. But what is it and why does it work? A sonic device, alliteration is a word game in which you start a number of words in a sentence with the same letter, or sound. For example, “Tony trapped fifty turtles in his net.” Notice first, second and fourth words starting with the letter ‘t’? That’s alliteration. Of all the rhetorical devices you can employ, alliteration is the most effective when you want your audience to remember a key piece of information. But why? Because the human brain is great at pattern recognition. When detected, patterns are more easily remembered.
Analogies are a way of comparing thoughts, ideas and facts. This rhetorical device is used to help your audience understand a new idea by relating it to something they already know. For example, if you’re explaining how a computer sends messages to different components such as the monitor, printer, etc, you could compare the workings with the way in which the brain works to coordinate functions such as breathing, walking, and talking. Analogies are like bridges that help us cross from what we know to what we’re trying to learn or explain.
Amplification means to layer your message with additional thoughts and arguments designed to sway the audience into agreeing with you. You can do this by making the idea sound bigger, more important, or more exciting than it really is. Often, amplification relies on exaggeration to draw your audience’s attention to a key point, or idea. For example, if you said, “There was not one dry eye in the building,” you’re using rhetoric to suggest everyone felt a surge of emotion. Think of amplification as intensifying parts of your speech to make them stand out and have a greater impact.
Rhetorical appeals are used to convince others or make them feel a certain way. For example, imagine trying to persuade your friend to join a gym with you. You might use some of the following appeals:
Emotional appeal. You explain how good your friend will feel when they start to lose weight, and build muscle.
Logical appeal. You explain how improved fitness leads to a longer, healthier life.
An appeal is a tool you can use to win someone over or make your case more convincing. When used the right way, it’s one of the most effective rhetorical devices you can wield.
An anecdote is like a short, interesting story that people tell to make a point or entertain others. It’s usually a personal experience or a little tale that helps explain something or adds flavour to a conversation. For example, if you’re talking about the importance of kindness, you might share a quick anecdote about a time when someone’s kindness made a big difference. Anecdotes are like tiny adventures or snapshots from life that make discussions more engaging and relatable.
A Strategy for Rhetorical Devices
To give you a better idea of how and when to use rhetorical devices in your speech, I’ve created this brief guide. If you need more help let me know in the comment section of this post:
Story – audience engagement (include metaphors, rhetorical questions, etc)
Flip story over/contrast using analogies (and antanagoge)
Repeat core idea
Amplify the core idea or message
Finish with a rhetorical question to sell your argument
What’s your preferred rhetorical device?
As I mentioned at the start of this post – this is not a definitive list of rhetorical devices as there are simply so many available. The tools above are the ones I found most effective on my journey to becoming an effective public speaker. And there are many other devices you can use to enhance your public speeches (props, pauses, etc) which you’ll find in the ‘public speaking’ section of this site.
If you’re just starting out, choose three of the rhetorical devices above and start to add them to your speeches – you’ll be amazed at how effective they are for engaging your audience. Once you’ve mastered three, choose three more and use them in your presentation.