Presentation words: Using the power of repetition


by Peter Watts

Repetition is a simple and highly effective public speaking technique. Take the time to listen to recordings of any accomplished speaker. You are bound to hear it.

For example, in this wartime speech of Sir Winston Churchill:

“We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the fields and streets; we shall never surrender.”

Or in this more recent example from President Obama:

“For us, they packed their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.”

The technique being used here is called Anaphora and involves the repetition of the opening words of a clause to generate emphasis and power. It can be used in all presentations and doesn’t need the occasion of an attacking army or a Presidential Inauguration to be effective. For example, if you want to convince a customer of the simplicity of your product solution, you could try a sentence such as:

“Simplicity is a key advantage of our product. Simplicity for your staff, simplicity for your customers.”

Or, if presenting to your sales team about the importance of sales activity, you could try something like:

“Activity is the basis of success; Activity in prospecting, activity in sales follow-up, and activity in customer service.”

The repetition serves to drive your point firmly home. No-one can miss what you are talking about.

If as a speaker you are not used to using techniques such as anaphora, then start cautiously. Identify your key message and incorporate a repetition of it within the body of your presentation. Deliver it conversationally and without fanfare. Don’t pause for effect; just continue with the presentation. If done well, you should be able to detect a small ripple of response from the audience; anything greater and you over-cooked it!

As with all techniques of rhetoric, anaphora is at it’s most powerful when used subtly, with just one occurrence per presentation being the best strategy..

With practice, dare I say…”repetition”, you’ll find that the approach becomes more natural and you are able to deploy it to different parts of the presentation, incorporating it into your introduction for early emphasis, or even using repetition as part of your summary to generate a powerful ending that brings an audience to their feet.


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