Antithesis: An easy way to sound profound


Naughty gets you straight into presentation heaven, and antithesis proves it.

Antithesis injects poetry into your presentation. In the words of Mark Forsyth, author of the fabulous “The Elements of Eloquence”, it lets you sound profound even when stating “the bleeding obvious”.

In the world of rhetoric, antithesis is fracking; unsubtle but highly effective.

To create antithesis, take two loosely opposing statements and yoke them together. For example, from Mr. Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

Let’s apply that approach to something simple, such as the weather. Right now I’m looking out of the window of a New England coffee-shop. It’s snowing:

“It was exciting weather, it was depressing weather.”

Profound, if confusingly vague. You might be wondering what use is a technique so muzzy to a business presenter, so let’s step it up a gear:

“Some solutions work perfectly. Other solutions do not.”

As Mark Forsyth suggests, this is indeed “the bleeding obvious” but it’s a wonderful jumping-off spot from which you can now talk about how your own solution belongs firmly in the former category.

“Some initiative are destined to soar, while others are doomed to sink.”

“There are days when it all goes smoothly. There are days when it all falls apart.”

Now try taking commonplace sayings and using poetic license to cheat your way to something witty:

For example,

“A stitch in time saves nine. A stitch in 19 suggests paranoia”

“To forgive is divine. To want payback is human.”

….and our entry point:

“If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, is the path to heaven paved with naughty thoughts?” 

These final examples aren’t the world’s strictest examples of antithesis, but they have a certain fun quality to them. They take a commonplace saying, from which everybody assumes a certain sentiment (smugness and/or condescension), and then flip that sentiment on it’s back for a surprise ending. Surprise endings are good. They keep the audience engaged and make things memorable.

Presentations remembered use techniques like antithesis. Presentations forgotten, do not.

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