Have you ever been impressed by a political speech, wondering how the speaker managed to captivate an audience? The answer is rhetoric: the art of persuasive speaking. Simon Lancaster, a speechwriter for politicians and CEOs, believes that anyone can learn this secret language of leadership. Rhetoric has its roots in ancient Greece, where clear and convincing speech was seen as an essential component of communication and participation in a democracy. In his TEDx talk, Lancaster shares six building blocks that you can use to speak persuasively:
Technique #1: Breathless sentences or phrases
Breathless sentences or phrases mimic how we speak when we're anxious and in a hurry. Short, staccato phrases can help communicate urgency to an audience. For example, Barack Obama's speech in 2008: "Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."
Technique #2: Speaking in 3s
Our minds and ears have been trained by speeches that come in threes. Using three points in an argument makes it sound more compelling, convincing, and credible. Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets” is a great example. Repetition of the opening clause adds further rhetorical firepower.
Technique #3: Balanced statements
Balanced statements like John F Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” have stood the test of time. Our brains like things that are balanced, and we imagine that the underlying thinking is balanced when the sentence sounds balanced.
Technique #4: Metaphor
Metaphors are probably the most powerful piece of political communication. People use a metaphor once every 16 words on average. Metaphors are rich in imagery and immediately awaken feelings in people. Politicians use them to point people to an ideal or aspiration. Examples: The Arab Spring, Calais jungle, financial storm.
Technique #5: Exaggeration
When we speak with passion, we often exaggerate, such as saying "I love this pizza" after not eating all day. We know it's a distortion, and everyone else does too. Similarly, politicians often make over-the-top statements, like "I've waited my whole life to say these words," that are acceptable and even welcomed because they mimic our own exaggerations.
Technique #6: Rhyme
We learn concepts through rhymes in childhood like “an apple a day” or “i before e except after c.” Rhymes can be powerful when used at the right time, like in Johnnie Cochran’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” during O.J. Simpson’s trial. Rhymes are easy to remember and process, making them like a pleasing snack compared to a difficult steak.
In conclusion, these six building blocks can help anyone speak persuasively. By mastering these rhetorical tools, you can make your speeches more memorable and captivating, whether you’re running for political office, giving a business presentation, or simply making a toast at a wedding. The secret language of leadership is no longer a secret, and anyone can learn it.