Want to Become an Effective Public Speaker? Ten Intriguing Rhetorical Devices

Ragan Communications is a great source of information for communicators. They hold various conferences including the Ragan Speechwriters Conference that I have been honored to keynote. The more you study writing and public speaking the more you realize there is to learn.

This list is challenging me and certainly teaches me new information. Hope you enjoy!

As writers and communicators, we’re all familiar with the more common devices, such as hyperbole, allusion, and analogy. Some others are more obscure. Next time you hear a message, see whether you detect any of these rhetorical devices.

1. Allusion—an indirect or casual reference to a historical or literary figure, event, or object.

Example: I named my protagonist Helena, an allusion to the wide-eyed and bewildered character in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

2. Antiphrasis—the use of a word opposite to its proper meaning; irony.

Example: The editor calmly yelled at her writing staff about the importance of fact-checking.

3. Apophasis—accentuating something by denying that it will be mentioned.

Example: I won’t even mention that you misspelled the company name in the press release.

4. Aporia—expressing doubt about an idea, conclusion, or position.

Example: I have never been able to decide where I stand on the serial comma, mostly because of the extremism for and against its use.

5. Aposiopesis—stopping abruptly and leaving a statement unfinished, giving the impression that the writer or speaker is unwilling or unable to continue.

Example: John’s behavior at the holiday party made it clear to everyone that he is a . . . but we won’t speak of that.

6. Analogy—a comparison of two things. Metaphors and similes are both types of analogy.

Example: Under her leadership, our workplace had become like “Animal Farm.”

7. Hyperbole—using exaggeration for emphasis or effect; overstatement.

Example: If you take proper hyphenation too seriously, you will surely go mad.

8. Sententia—quoting a maxim or wise saying to apply a general truth to the situation, thereby offering a single statement of general wisdom.

Example: Perhaps we should all remember what Stephen King once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

9. Pleonasm—using more words than necessary to express an idea.

Example: I forgot my PIN number for the ATM machine.

10. Epizeuxis—the immediate repetition of words for emphasis.

Example: The answer to that question is no, no, no, a thousand times no.

This list has been excerpted from an article in Ragan Communications.

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