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How To Write a Speech: Rhetorical Devices

Below, you’ll find a list of the key rhetorical devices that will help achieve a highly persuasive style in speech writing at any level.

In order to write and/or deliver a successful speech, you must be able to understand and skillfully use rhetoric. ‘Rhetoric’ is the art of persuasive speaking; it was first developed in Ancient Greece and is still used by politicians, businessmen, and leading professionals in almost any field of work in the present day.

This document is useful for anyone studying speech writing at GCSE, A-Level, University level and beyond. It is also suitable for a range of exam boards: AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC/Eduqas, CCEA, CIE / Cambridge.


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RHETORICAL DEVICES

Anecdote

A personal story, either your own or about someone you know. It must be told in a way that sets a persuasive example.

E.g. ‘When I was a little child, I used to think…. ‘

‘My friend had this problem a few years ago…’

Anaphora

Repeating the beginning of a sentence several times for effect — this amplifies your point and connects several ideas together.

E.g. Nothing will grow here, if we do not change the way we treat the earth. There will be no trees. There will be no birds. There will be no humans either, because we all depend on ecosystems to exist.

Hyperbole

An over-exaggeration of a statement in order to create a more sensational, emotional and emphatic point about something. It can be comedic, or used to stress an important idea. Hyperbole is always factually inaccurate.

E.g.

Over Christmas this year, I must have gained at least 90 kilos.

Snails are the absolute worst creatures on this planet.

There are millions and millions of people who all agree that krispy kreme donuts are the best donuts in the world.

The prices of that company were sky high.

Tripartite structure

A grouping of three words, phrases, or concepts. Groups of three are thought to be very memorable, so use this technique when you want something to stand out or you want your key ideas to be remembered.

E.g.

Pancakes, lemon and sugar is the best food combination.

There are three atrocities in society that we really must tackle: poverty, health and exploitation.

School uniforms are great for students because they help to stop bullying over appearance, they help everyone feel like part of a team and they make it easier to get ready in the morning.

Humour — using puns, irony and other comedic techniques in order to make the audience at ease, more trusting of your ideas and in a relaxed, entertained mood. Not every speech requires humour — make sure to understand the right tone and style required for your audience and topic before using this technique.

E.g.

She’s got worse fashion sense than my grandma.

Sure, skiing is fun, but have you ever tried filing your tax return at two minutes to the deadline? That’s a really wild ride.

Idiom

Idioms, or idiomatic expressions, are phrases which can’t be directly translated because they don’t literally mean what they say. We use them figuratively as an expression or figure of speech to create an informal, conversational, friendly and familiar tone. They can also sometimes be humorous.

E.g.

The manager has got a screw loose.

That failure was actually a blessing in disguise.

Rhetorical question

A question that doesn’t require an answer, either because it opens up the audience’s mind and makes them think deeper about something, or because the answer is very obvious in the first place. A highly persuasive technique that is used to get the audience on your side about a particular issue.

E.g.

We’ve all experienced difficulty at some point in our lives, haven’t we?

Is he really going to get away with this?

Who here among us today thinks slavery is still acceptable?

Hypophora

Asking a rhetorical question, and then answering it yourself. It can be even more effective than a standard rhetorical question.

E.g.

Why do we keep destroying the planet? Greed and convenience, that’s why.

Who actually likes taking exams? I sure don’t.

Bathos / Anticlimax

building up tension but having an underwhelming and unexpected ending. This is a frustrating technique that can be used to create empathy or sympathy, as well as humour, sadness or disappointment — a highly emotive technique.

E.g.

He hit me. Right in the face. And do you know what I did? Nothing.

So I spent five days straight awake, powered only by coffee and chocolate bars, manically typing my essay to make sure it was due on time. I missed football in the park with my friends. I didn’t go to my sister’s birthday party. I even ignored phone calls from my girlfriend and risked my whole future happiness with her! When I got it back, I just scraped a C grade.

Listing

A range of words or phrases in a deliberate list. It can feel like you’re presenting a large amount of evidence for something, or that there’s a lot going on. It can also be used to overwhelm the audience.

E.g.

Honestly, who wants to be a housewife these days? There’s so much to do: cook, clean, tidy, raise the kids, run errands, sort the garden, washing, ironing and organising activities… it must be so exhausting!

Asyndetic listing (only commas between listed items): He’s an explorer, and he’s travelled absolutely everywhere: Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Morocco, Kenya, Australia, India, China, Japan, the USA, Brazil, the Arctic circle… you name it, he’s been there. — creates a compressed feeling, intense and quick to read.

Syndetic listing (using conjunctions between listed items): The feast was huge! They had roast chicken and steaks and burgers and chips and garlic bread and salads and coleslaw and apple pie and ice cream. — creates an extended, drawn out feeling, each image in the list is emphasised. In this example, it also conveys intense excitement.

Facts and figures

it’s very hard to deny someone’s opinion when they have a lot of factual evidence to back it up. This can include definite facts or statistics and numbers. The more detailed and specific you are, the more convincing this technique will be.

E.g.

In a recent survey conducted by our own research and development department, 90% of amateur athletes under the age of 35 said they have experienced a direct improvement on their performance by using our product.

In a report conducted by the United Nations (UN) in May 2019, it was stated that an estimated 1 million species worldwide are now under threat of extinction.


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