The Echo Technique in Presentations

  • SumoMe

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.

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