For impact: It’s diacope baby, diacope”

by Peter Watts

Oh dear. It wasn’t my intention but I appear to be channeling Austin Powers, which for a British blogger is mortifying. Utterly mortifying. And I also seem to have gotten myself lost in a loop of this week’s topic: the diacope, which is a wonderfully useful rhetorical tool for creating  impact and soundbites. Fabulous soundbites, such as:

“Yeah, baby, yeah.”

It’s  just two words, put together in a structure of A-B-A (sorry, couldn’t resist attaching the YouTube clip).

“Bond, James Bond.”

Once again, supremely memorable, and just two words: A-B-A.

How about “Drill, baby, drill”. Suddenly it’s the 2008 election all over again, and even though Sarah Palin didn’t actually coin this particular phrase, that A-B-A carried her to fame if not to elected office.

Diacope is an easy way to slip a soundbite into your presentation. Let’s take the word “service” as an example. Here’s some differing diacopes that could land a service message:

  • “Customers demand service. Exceptional service”
  • “Our core value is service. Award-winning service”
  • “Our focus is service. Timely service”

A-B-A creates a soundbite without an overt sense of  drama, and the first time you try out a new technique, that’s a great place to start. After a little successful experimentation though, you could try diacope’s  splashier big cousin: A-A-B-A.

In “White Christmas”, Danny Kaye uses the phrase: “The Theater, the Theater, what’s happened to the Theater?” Fans will recognize that as the opening line of “Choreography”.

Kenneth Williams meanwhile, playing Julius Caesar in “Carry on Cleo” used diacope for the fabulous: “Infamy, Infamy; they’ve all got it in for me.”, thereby abusing Shakespeare while simultaneously demonstrating that diacope can play with word sounds as much as with the words themselves.

Here are a few possible A-A-B-A business samples, this time playing with the theme of “strength”:

  • “Strength, strength, industrial strength.”
  • “Toughness, toughness, rock-solid toughness.”
  • “Muscle, muscle, absolute muscle.”

As you read these examples, you might think  they look painfully awkward on the page, and that’s because like many rhetorical tools, diacope is more intended to be said than read. It needs the inflection of human voice to breath  life into the words. Also don’t forget that you’re  reading these in isolation and normally they would be blended into a longer phrase:

Bandwidth, bandwidth, affordable high-capacity bandwidth. We want to put streaming video and voice services within the reach of the regular subscriber, not just those willing to pay through the nose for premium services. That’s our goal with these new high-capacity, low-cost, high-bandwidth products.”

When folded into a phrase, the A-A-B-A format gives a power-lifter lift-off to your message.

Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

(Sorry. Last time I’ll do that. Honest!)

When your first public speech is in the service of others

spotlight

A first presentation can lead to profound opportunity

by Peter Watts

Many presenters find they are first moved to speak in public not by professional or business requirements, but because somebody needs to stand-up for their community. A local need or a perceived injustice means that somebody needs to step up to the plate.

If you need to speak before the Town Council or the School Board or the PTA or any similar group of elected or non-elected bureaucrats, it can be helpful to your cause if you can move their hearts as well as their minds.

Appealing to logic will get you nowhere. You need emotion.

In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama had to make just such an appeal. It was an appeal for legislator’s to allow a vote on gun control. What techniques did he use in order to achieve it?

Here are the words themselves:

“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

Powerful in impact, the President’s words were surprisingly simple in construction, and you can use the same techniques.

The power of his appeal came from the combination of four techniques.

Technique 1: Pathos

Pathos tugs directly at emotions and makes any speech intensely personal. This isn’t a speech about abstract victims of gun-crime but a speech about victims of gun-crime who are right here in the room. They are named individuals known to the audience. When an appeal is based upon a group who are either known to the audience or in close proximity to them, the emotional intensity becomes hard to resist.

Technique 2: Repetition

The passage is comprised of five phrases, each of which ends with the words “deserve a vote.”  This is Epistrophe; a repetition pattern that concludes adjacent phrases with the same words. That repetition becomes a drum-beat, that progressively increases the speaker’s intensity with each occurrence.

Technique 3: Mass Conjunctions

Entering into the final phrase, the power of Epistrophe is joined by a deliberate over-use of the conjunction “and”:

“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

This is Polysyndeton. Conjunctions bring more weight to a list than a silent comma ever can, and raises the drum-beat rhythm to an even higher pitch.

Technique 4: Diminution

Suddenly, that drum-beat crescendo is cancelled. Take a look at the final repetition. It’s been modified. Rather than “deserve a vote”, the President now uses the phrase “deserve a simple vote.”

This is Diminution. After building the juggernaut, Barack Obama has introduced the word “simple”. How tiny and miniature that word seems when compared against a catalogue of horrors. After such a list of tragedy, what person could possibly deny the bereaved a “simple vote”.

Take the challenge

If you ever find yourself undertaking your first piece of public speaking in order to do good for others, that challenge can appear daunting.

Accept the challenge. This is what public speaking is all about. It’s all about finding your voice and the power that goes with it.

Don’t be afraid to use emotion. Don’t be afraid to try out techniques. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A good friend of mine found herself in just such a position, and since that first appearance she’s gone on to be elected as Deputy Mayor of our town.

When you find your voice in the service of helping others, and rise to the occasion, you never know to what other successes it will lead you.

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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