Five Spoken Language Tricks to Improve your Talks and Presentations

Rhetorical Devices for Talks and Presentations

Spoken language is the most powerful communication tool we possess.  Unfortunately, many of us use it like amateurs.

While we may all have worked away at our written English, few of us learn how to craft outstanding spoken language.  Using just a few simple rhetorical devices, you can quickly bring your talks and presentations to life. Based on our 15+ years of coaching senior executives, you have here some easy-to-use rhetorical devices that you can apply easily to your next presentation.

The following five rhetorical devices are some of the easiest, most frequently used and powerful spoken language devices

Try these out today.

To show the tricks in action, we have highlighted how President Obama used them in his Inauguration Address, further down the page.

The five most useful rhetorical devices

  1. Triples or triads
  2. Contrasts
  3. Questions
  4. Imagery
  5. Exaggeration

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Rhetorical Language Device #1. Triples

Yes, yes and yes.

The brain likes to listen in threes. Try starting three phrases the same way, ending three sentences the same way, or finding a third phrase that completes the first two. Also, try and find phrases that break up into groups of three.  For example, Steve Jobs in his Stamford Commencement Speech used the line: ” Today I’m going to tell you three stories from my life.  That’s it.  No big deal.  Just three stories.”

See examples or triples in red in the speech below.


Rhetorical Language Device #2. Contrasts

A phrase is either balanced or it’s not balanced. You’ll agree or not agree. Contrasting pairs create tension between two opposites, and tension keeps your audience attentive.

See examples of contrasts in green in the speech below.

Spoken Language Technique #3. Questions

  • Why do questions work so well?
  • What is it that gets people thinking as you want?
  • How can you ask questions that bring your talks to life?

Questions are very powerful to connect with your audience and to get your audience thinking in the way you want.

Spoken Language Technique #4. Imagery

Imagine if your audience could see what you are saying. Imagery is the pinnacle of spoken language.

It helps you to grab your audience by the ears and drag them to where you want them to be.

See examples or imagery in blue in the speech below.

Spoken Language Technique #5. Exaggeration

Geoffrey Crowther, editor of The Economist, advised his young writers to “simplify, then exaggerate”.

This is sound advice for speaking in public too. If it feels like you are going too far by using the techniques above, you are probably getting it right.

See examples of exaggeration in orange in the speech below.

These few simple tools can help transform a caterpillar of a talk into a butterfly. You can use them to shape your words and phrases; to shape your stories and structure; and to shape your presentation and your performance.

Example talk: President Obama’s Inaugural Address (2009)

Snippets of the talk are colour-coded to show how the above rhetorical language techniques have been applied:

In red – examples of triples

In green – examples of contrasts

In blue – examples of imagery

In orange – examples of exaggeration

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

For more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

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Listen to President Obama using these rhetorical devices


Do you want to strengthen your spoken communications?

If you want help to brighten your talks and presentations into powerful persuasive communications that you can deliver confidently, then get in touch.

We’ll help you look, sound and feel impressive so that you grab your audience’s attention.

In just a few, short hours we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on 020 7018 0922 or email to discuss how we can help you become an impressive public speaker.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

About Benjamin Ball Associates

Benjamin Ball Associates  Presentation skills coaching team

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help our clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.

Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of presentation skills & techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email to find out more and discuss transforming your speeches, pitches and presentations.

Contact us for a free consultation on your coaching needs

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

Let's talk about your presentation training needs

Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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