Polished Presenters Use Awesome Alliteration

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone,  SpongeBob Squarepants.

All cartoon characters.

All examples of alliteration.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words. It is the fifth 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.

Like rhyme, alliteration can be a powerful memory aid, anchoring points in the minds of your audience members.  Alliteration is one reason we easily remember clichés such as sink or swim, a dime a dozen, and the favorite of every speaker, perfect practice prevents poor performance.

But alliteration can be very effective without being so obvious.  I analyzed John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural address and found several instances of subtle alliteration (If you want to read or listen to this speech, click here):

  • same solemn oath
  • man holds in his mortal hands (parallel alliteration)
  • for which our forebears fought
  • to friend and foe alike
  • whether it wishes us well or ill
  • we shall pay any price, bear any burden
  • the survival and the success of liberty
  • colonial control
  • struggling to break the bonds of mass misery
  • sovereign states
  • writ may run
  • before the dark powers of destruction
  • the steady spread of the deadly atom
  • peace preserved
  • bear the burden
  • a grand and global alliance
  • high standards of strength and sacrifice
  • let us go forth to lead the land we love

 A couple of alliteration “Don’ts:”

1. Don’t go overboard.  Usually 3 words starting with the same consonant is enough.  Extreme alliteration starts to sound like a childhood tongue twister such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
2. Don’t use weird words.  While you can get ideas for synonyms using a thesaurus, don’t use words that you wouldn’t normally say.

In other words, have fun, but not too much fun with alliteration.  Don’t say things like:  “Abundant alliteration is always awesome” or even, “Polished Presenters Use Awesome Alliteration.”

The Echo Technique in Presentations

You may have heard people say that giving a speech is simple: Tell them what you’re going to tell them.  Then tell them.  Then tell them what you told them.  That’s one basic, boring use of repetition.

A more exciting use of repetition is the echo technique.  Echo is the repetition of a word or phrase.  It is the fourth 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.

An echo not only lingers in the mind, but it can build to a climax, gathering emotional force. If you are striving for a conversational speech, be sparing in your use of echo.  Too much echo can seem over-dramatic and contrived.  A little echo can go a long way.

The most common type of echo is starting echo (anaphora), which occurs at the start of successive clauses.

My kind of party:  Good food.  Good friends.  Good fun.

Note the set of three in the above simple example.  Using a word or phrase three times has a natural, powerful cadence, but it is not an absolute rule as the next example illustrates:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
(Winston Churchill)

A more recent example of starting echo:

Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can. (Barack Obama)

You can also use ending echo (epiphora):

When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. (I Corinthians 13:11)

A difficult, but extremely memorable use of repetition is the reverse echo.  When you reverse the echo, you are reversing the meaning as in these examples:

Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country. (John F. Kennedy)

Eat to live, don’t live to eat. (Ben Franklin)

Echo can also be used to evoke an echo response in your audience.  One speech I heard that used this technique quite effectively was Toastmaster World Champion Speaker Ed Tate’s “One of Those Days” speech.  He told an ordinary story of how he was at the airport and everything seemed to be going wrong, ending each part of the story with “it was . . . one of those days.”  He ends the speech with “I knew it was going to be . . . (and the audience completes the sentence) ‘one of those days’”

Don’t let your presentations fade into the distant memory of your audience.  Use echo to create rhythm. Use echo to create momentum.  Use echo to create a powerful speech.

Prime Your Audience with Rhyme!

Rhyme builds rhythm, momentum and memory.

Rhyme is the third 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.

Short rhymes can be very effective in foundational phrases in your presentations.  Think of a foundational phrase as a “slogan” for a point you want people to remember.  It can even summarize your main points.  For example, I helped a recent presentation client boil down her 3 action steps to:  Dump it! Claim it! Do it!  In this case the rhyme is the same word, “it.”     Someone speaking about moving around to stay healthy could boil the message down to:  Be fit. Don’t sit.

Use ending rhymes with caution.  If you have more than 2 sentences ending with rhyming words, it can start to sound like a nursery rhyme.

However, you can use suffixes that rhyme to create a sense of parallelism, which enhances memory.

A short example, I’m sure you’ve heard:  Your attitude determines your altitude.

A longer example (Product Development):

Quality focuses on specification.

Research focuses on exploration.

Design focuses on innovation.

Production focuses on creation.

You can also use internal rhyme (i.e. not at the end of phrases), which is subtle, but powerful.

Winston Churchill:  Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.  Humanity, not legality, should be our guide.

So, how can you come up with your own powerful rhymes?

Online, of course!

  1. Try using synonyms to explore words at Thesaurus.com.  Maybe you want to use a different word than “angry” for example.
  2. Use a rhyming dictionary, such as Rhymezone.com
  3. Search for words that end in specific suffixes at OneLook.com (for example, if you want words that end in “ity” you can use a wild card asterisk in your search.  You would search for *ity and then narrow your search by selecting “common words only”).  OneLook.com is linked to the searches at rhymezone.com (“Want more ideas? Try searching OneLook.com  for words ending with *ity”)

Isn’t it time you added some rhyme?  Prime your audience with rhyme.

Using Contrast in Presentations

contrast What if in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet had said, “I wonder if I should kill myself?”

Nobody would have remembered it.  Instead, Hamlet says, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Shakespeare knew the secret power of contrast.

Contrast  is the second  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.

In short, contrast occurs when two opposite viewpoints are placed close together.  It can be used for powerful phrasing, or even to structure an entire speech.

Many are called, but few are chosen.” –Matthew 22:14

Hot Eats, Cool Treats” –Dairy Queen

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”—Mohammad Ali

“The best means of insuring peace is to be prepared for war.”—Alexander Hamilton

If you need some ideas on opposite pairings, check out Thesaurus.com.

When you input a word, you get related words,  definitions,  synonyms (similar meaning) and antonyms (opposite meaning).

For example, in the listing for courage , under the “boldness, braveness” definition, the antonyms listed are:

“cowardice, faint-heartedness, fear, meekness, timidity, weakness”

Choose a word (or investigate other meanings) that fits with your concept and has a catchy sound.  In the case of courage, I’d probably pick cowardice (which also has alliteration) or fear (which is short and to-the-point).

Not only can you have contrast in phrasing, but you also can have contrast in your speech structure.

In an insightful look at a few famous speeches, Nancy Duarte,author of Slideology and Resonate, gave a TEDx presentation, The Secret Structure of Great Talks in which she reveals that the speeches she studied have a common structure, of talking about “what is” and then about “what could be.”

This is a powerful structure to create a vision for your audience by taking them on a hero’s journey to a “new bliss.”

Take your speeches from dull to dynamic by using contrast!