Similes in Your Speech Are Like Water in the Desert

He was as phony as a three dollar bill.

She grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Your mind works like a computer.

“Like” and “as” are the typical words of comparison in similes.  Simile is the first rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

Both similes and metaphors compare two different things which have some similar properties.  Similes typically use “like” or “as” to make the comparison.  A metaphor, which will be a later subject in this series, substitutes one thing for another:  “you are the wind beneath my wings.”  A simile would state it as “you are like the wind beneath my wings.”

The simile compares ideas explicitly side by side.  It is a literal comparison.  “A” is like “B.” The metaphor superimposes the ideas.  “A” is “B.” It is a figurative comparison, usually of a concrete, tangible thing taking the place of an abstract or less tangible thing.

Simile vs. MetaphorYou can use both similes and metaphors to create vivid images in your listener’s mind.  But, similes can be more precise than metaphors and are often used to explain something unfamiliar in more familiar terms, enhancing understanding.  “Your heart is like a pump.”

How can you create your own similes?

  1. Pick a concept, a quality, or an image
  2. Are there other words to describe the concept?
  3. Consider possible synonyms (check an online thesaurus)
  4. What else is like that (or for an ironic simile, the opposite)—brainstorm!
  5. Add more interesting details,

Here’s an example:

  1. Something was all of a sudden easy to understand, even though it was complex
  2. Another way to describe:  It was all clear to me!
  3. Possible Synonyms?  Crystal, sunny, bright, smooth, cloudless, see-through
  4. Clear as a crystal (or ironic:  Clear as mud)
  5. The concept, all at once, was as clear as a crystal.  Its shining facets beamed new insights that forever changed my thinking.

Without similes or other rhetorical devices, your speech is like a vast desert of dullness!  No more dry, boring speeches!  A simile is like water for your presentations, giving life to your message!

Rhetorical Devices: SCREAM to Give Your Presentations Power

Colorful language can capture an audiences’ attention and it can anchor your points in their minds.  The following acronym was modified (by adding “simile”) from the book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (a book I highly recommend for any speaker!). The SCREAM structure was coined in 2005 by Dr. Randy J. Harvey, the 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking and has been taught around the globe since then.

In future posts, I will take a closer look at each of the components of SCREAM.

Simile—using “like” or “as” to compare (sort of a gentler form of a metaphor)

He screamed like a little girl.  He hid under the table, as quiet as a mouse.

Contrast—pairing of opposites

Churchill:  There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory.   (It’s a bonus if you can also use alliteration.  For example:  From the depths of tragedy, he rose to triumph)

Some opposite pairs:  Present—Past (or Future), Beginning—End, Dark—Light, Friend—Foe.


Benjamin Franklin:  An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Echo: Repetition of a word or Phrase

Churchill:  We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the hiss; we shall never surrender.

Alliteration—repetition of the beginning sounds of a word.

Martin Luther King, Jr.:  I have a dream that my little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Metaphor—directly says that something is something else.

  • His beard was a lion’s mane.
  • Bullets of hate shot from his mouth.
  • His bark is worse than his bite.

You can even combine rhetorical devices:

Shakespeare (Romeo speaking of Juliet):

“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!  (Metaphor—Juliet is so radiant)
Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night, (Metaphor—dark night sets off bright beauty)
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”; (Simile—another expression of above metaphor).

How to Develop Your Own Humorous Material

Have you ever tried to think of something funny to say and drawn a blank?

Have you ever wanted to incorporate humor into a presentation, but didn’t  know how?

There is a simple tool:  Self-deprecating humor.

Put yourself down to bring the laughter up!

In addition to being funny, self-deprecating humor makes you seem:

  • more confident–confident enough to point out your faults
  • more modest–not a puffed up egomaniac
  • more likeable–your failings can make you more relatable

A great resource for developing your own humor is Judy Carter’s book, Stand-Up Comedy: The Book.   I’ve paraphrased and simplified some of the material in the book to give you a 3-step process for developing material that pokes fun at yourself.  I call it the LAF process.

  1. Lists–write lists of traits and issues
  2. Attitude—add attitude
  3. Formulas: Apply some humor formulas

1. Lists

Brainstorm under the following categories.  I’ve bared my soul and listed some of my personal issues.

  • Negative Personality traits/shortcomings
  • Unique traits(esp. physical)
  • Things that make you angry
  • Things you worry about
  • Things that frighten you

2. Attitude

  • Rant and rave on a topic without trying to be funny.  I hate . . .
  • Then try to take a mocking attitude. I love . . .  or I’m proud of  . . .

3. Formulas (all involve incongruity)

  • Exaggeration
  • Set up . . . Punch line
  • Rule of 3’s  (expected, expected . . . unexpected)
  • Use a prop?

Here was my attempt on ranting and adding some humor formulas to my trait of being “directionally impaired” (more politically correct than “directionally disabled”):

I hate getting lost.   I guess I’m directionally disabled.  It’s disability that gets no respect.  There are no special classes in schools for students who can’t find their way to the bathroom.  People make fun of me—“she gets so lost . . .  she can’t find her way out of a paper bag.”

I hate getting lost.  Nobody wants me to be the driver. My children don’t even like going places with me—they don’t buy the “scenic route” line any more.  The last time I told them we were going to the Mall, they ran to their rooms . . . and packed overnight bags.

I hate getting lost.  Now that I have GPS Navigation on my phone, you wouldn’t think it is such a problem.  But I think my GPS is defective—or not very good at math.  Almost every time I take a turn it says “recalculating.”

I hate getting lost.  When I get lost 3 things come to mind:  where am I?  Will I be late? And, I’m sure glad I always have  . . . my overnight bag!

Your turn!  LAF your way to being funny!

Never Speak Too Long Again!

A speech is like a woman’s skirt: it needs to be long enough to cover the subject matter but short enough to hold the audience’s attention. ~Author Unknown

I’m not sure which is worse, a speaker who is oblivious to the fact that he or she has gone overtime or one who realizes it and keeps talking anyway, often trying to cram 15 minutes of material into 3 minutes.  All I know is that I don’t want to be one of those speakers.  Neither do you, right?

Here are a few tips to help you stay within your time:

1. The Technical Approach.  Figure out your WPM (Words Per Minute).  Pick something conversational to read that’s about half a page long.  Ideally, it would be your speech!  Count the words (or cut and paste it into a MS Word Document and get an automatic word count).

Time yourself reading the selection in a conversational manner (the stopwatch feature of a phone works well).  Then divide the number of words by the time in seconds.  Multiply by 60.  That’s your WPM.  Do this a couple more times, with different selections and average the WPM.  That’s your ballpark WPM.  Then, to figure out approximately how many words long you need your speech to be, you just multiply your WPM by the length of the speech (in minutes).

For example, this article has 514 words.  I timed myself reading for 3:20 minutes, which is 200 seconds.

(514 words/200 seconds) X 60 seconds/min = 154 WPM  (the average rate for an American speaker is 150 WPM).

Let’s say I want to give a 10 minute speech.

My estimated word count is 154 WPM X 10 min = 1540 words.  So, if I write a speech of approximately 1540 words, then it will be about 10 minutes long.  However, it may be longer or shorter depending on pauses, rate variations, and use of humor.  Better to err on the side of being a little short.

 2. Write a Flexible Speech.  Sometimes you get more or less time than you were told. Have a plan for adding or removing material on the fly, to meet time requirements.  You can add or subtract examples, stories and sometimes activities or a Q&A session.  Whatever you add or subtract, still end with your strong conclusion (which should come after a Q&A session).

 3. PRACTICE. Time your speech while practicing.  Obvious, right?  But a lot of people don’t do it!  Do remember that if you say something funny, you need to allow time for people to laugh.  Don’t “step on the laughs” just because you are long on content and short on time.

4. Time your speech while presenting. Use your own timing device, if possible.  But, be discreet about looking at the time.  I use an app for my iPhone called Presentation Clock. As I get close to my ending time the colors on the large numbers change from green to yellow to red.  You could also ask someone to time your speech.

Do you have some tips for staying within time limits?

Never Forget Another Speech: Speech Memorization Techniques

I think the biggest reason that people fear public speaking is that they are afraid of opening their mouths and “blanking out” or sounding stupid.  Some people even try to memorize their speeches.

Right off, you should know that I’m not a big fan of speeches that are memorized word-for-word. I’ve tried it and found that it increases my “blank out” experiences (because I have only practiced saying something one way, instead of a more extemporaneous flow of speech).  Even if you don’t need to memorize a speech word-for-word, you can use memorization techniques to enhance your recall of material.

The steps to Never Forgetting Your Speech:

  1. Write the outline
  2. Write (type or longhand) the body, then the introduction followed by the conclusion. Does it flow?  Especially work on transitions.
  3. Read your written speech out loud.  Does it sound OK? Record, if possible.  I use the recorder on my cell phone.  Pay close attention to transitions.  A simple and very effective technique is to repeat a word that is at the end of one sentence in the beginning of another sentence as you transition to another part of your speech. I call it the Echo Technique.  “She didn’t take down the Christmas tree until Valentine’s DayValentine’s Day is 51 days after Christmas.  I was ready to call the Fire Marshall.”
  4. Use keywords. If you don’t need to have it memorized word-for-word, reduce your speech to keywords and work from the key words.  An alternative to key words is to storyboard your speech (use pictures for points)
  5. Apply memorization techniques.  There are several you could use. Two are detailed below.

Memorization Technique #1: CHUNK IT! Read, Recall, Check, Repeat

Chunk the speech into smaller pieces (2-3 sentences)

  • Read the chunk aloud
  • Recall–try to say the chunk without peeking at the written speech
  • Check by reading again (or if you recorded, you can listen to the recording)
  • Repeat until you get the first chunk down

Then go on to the next chunk of material, but include the first chunk in the “Recall” part:

Chunk 1 + Chunk 2, then Chunk 1 + Chunk 2 + Chunk 3 and so on.

Continue until you can say the entire speech, word for word

 Memorization Technique #2: Silly Walk Method

Break the speech up into the main points.

  • Assign each of the points to a room in your home—the sub-points can be pieces of furniture.
  • Create a word picture for the point.  In your mind see yourself doing something silly with the word picture in the room.
  • Physically walk through the house if you can, picturing the silly pictures as you say the words for each point.  You can also take pictures with your phone of the locations and then run through it visually on your phone, imagining you are taking a walk.

Practice each segment, in order, several times, until you have the wording down (you can apply the Read, Recall, Check Repeat method here also)

Another version of the “Silly Walk” is to create a Map of your Speech and use pictures to represent concepts (or destinations) for your points.

Review Technique:  Speed Speech (saying the speech very fast), spaced reviews.

Do you have other techniques to reduce “blank-outs” or forgetting of entire speech segments?