We HubSpotters certainly have a way with words. One look at our blog, or our offers or our emails, and you can see that we are highly into hyperbole (world transformation, anyone?), mostly mad about metaphors, and super silly about similes. Oh, and alliteration? Yeah, we like alliteration, too, but I promise not to use any it in this post (yep, that was irony for those of you paying attention).
Yet oftentimes, this eloquence with writing does not factor into our process when we prepare to speak in front of a crowd. Who has time to remember all of those pesky personifications and annoying antitheses? Why should we bother to employ these rhetorical devices at all?
Not only can they make your speech more memorable but easier to remember as well. How so? The ancient Greek poet Homer never penned the Iliad and the Odyssey: these epics were not committed to paper until almost 200 years after their original creation. How? What made these 10,000 plus line behemoths so memorable and sticky to natives of this oral culture? A clever, concatenation of well-placed, rhetorical and mnemonic devices. This is a technique that possesses applications even in the digital age. Steve Jobs himself used 16 in his 2007 announcement of the iPhone launch, With that said here are some concepts to keep in mind the next time you have to take that written wit from the page to the podium.
Scholars categorize these devices in a multitude of ways, but for our purposes it might be simpler to divide them into two camps: rhetorical devices that play on the significance of a word or words (also known as tropes), and those that play on the arrangement of a word (AKA schemes).
The simplest of tropes are all the basic analogies you learned in high school English class. You probably have similes (comparisons using like or as) and metaphors (direct comparisons) down. Heck, these rhetorical devices are so pedestrian you might not even realize when you are using them in your speech. For those of you looking for something more advanced say hello to the bad boys below:
- Anthimeria: Hard to say, but fun to use, this device is when one part of speech is substituted for another, such as noun for a verb. "Dude, I can't believe I got Rubined again. I could quit, but I would probably just Vigah."
- Irony You probably already know this one, but it is worth covering as it fascinating when executed well (hello Seinfeld), but can be tough to identify (hello Alanis Morisette). It is defined according to Merriam Webster as "The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect." Such as when Kurt Vonnegut describes one of his characters "as pleasant and relaxed as a coiled rattlesnake" in his novel Breakfast of Champions.
- Litotes: This is hyperbole's sweet subtle cousin, where speakers deliberately understate their points in order to add emphasis. Think of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, describing his sudden amputation as "just a flesh wound."
- Metonymy: A reference to a person, place or thing based on something associated with it, as in the saying "the pen is mightier than the sword." where the pen stands for the writing it produces and the sword for violence.
- Oxymoron: Placing two opposing terms adjacent to one another. Can be used dramatically (Simon & Garfunekel's The Sound of Silence," or Milton's description of Hell's "darkness visible" in Paradise Lost) or humorously as in George Carlin's examples of military intelligence and freedom fighters.
- Syllepsis: You could hate me for this one, but at least I did not mention the related Zeugma. Syllepsis is when a word or phrase is used in its literal and figurative sense at the same time. What makes it cool (and effing effective) is that it can often appear grammatically incorrect and forces your audience to really think about what you have said. "You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff." - Groucho Marx, Duck Soup.
- Synecdoche: Nope, not a city in upstate New York, but rather a part that represents the whole, as in using the word "wheels" to substitute for either a bike or car, or most famously, in Julius Caesar when Antony says "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears."
So enough of these trashy tropes, let's move on to some scathing schemes, those rhetorical devices that positively dance on the tongue:
- Alliteration: Probably the most basic of schemes - a repetition of initial sound or sounds in a series of words. Think of any tongue twister you tried your hand at as a kid....or an adult. It can add emphasis to whatever phrase, concept or story you are trying to illustrate, and honestly is just fun to say. For examples see the introductory sentence to this section or note that my favorite tropes are alliteration, anaphora, anastrophe, antithesis, and assonance,
- Anaphora: Repetition of the same word at the beginning of a series of sentences or phrases. We
can go high brow, as in Shakespeare's Richard II "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England," or low brow in Big Lebwoski, when the policeman tells the eponymous hero : "I don't like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don't like your jerk-off name. I don't like your jerk-off face. I don't like your jerk-off behavior, and I don't like you, jerk-off."
- Anastrophe: Departure from normal word order for the sake of emphasis, For truly great examples, look to everything uttered by the infinitely quotable Yoda in Star Wars. Is this something that we are going for in a speech? Probably not. But if it worked for Longfellow and his forest primeval; it can work for you too!
- Antithesis: A juxtaposition of opposing or contrary ideas. Think Neil Armstrong's "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," or Pope's "to err is human, to forgive divine."
- Assonance: (Insert cheeky comment here), Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds in successive words. It's part of what makes a song stuck in your head. For all the Biggie fans out there: "Birthdays was the worst days, now we drink Champagne, cause we're Thirsty!"
- Asyndeton: While most of these schemes operate on the premise of addition, asyndeton is based on the intentional omission of conjunctions such as "and," "or," "but" etc. This gem is a surefire way to punch up the passion for those whose speech is in need of some pep. It adds speed and rhythm, telling listeners "I'm so damn excited, hurried, worked up I don't have time to use and." Plus according to Aristotle it is that rare rhetorical device which is more effective when used in oratory than in writing.
So the next time you find yourself struggling for modes of memorization, an inkling of inspiration, a dash of drama, think of this handy dandy reference guide, you spunky speaker you.
Want to see some oratory in action?