Having trouble getting your points across? Feel as though your audience is almost falling asleep as you talk? Getting comments like, “try not to speak monotone” or, “try to sound more interesting”? If any of this sounds like you, fear not, because all is not lost.
You see, I used to be like this debater. I failed to get my audience to pay attention to the details of what I was saying. They would get bored too easily, and even when they tried to pay attention, their brain would fail to retain the information. So how did I fix things? I learned about figures of speech.
Now, some of you (if not most) probably have at least heard of these before. And that’s because they work. Really well. And even if you haven’t ever been taught any figures of speech, you’ve definitely heard them before in speeches (just check out Obama’s 2009 inauguration address, he uses a million of them), and they’ve definitely made things a whole lot more interesting whether you realize it or not. So what are they?
Well, a figure of speech is basically just a method of arranging sounds, words, ideas or sentences to add dramatic effect. Take, for example, our first figure:
Pretty much everyone who’s taken basic writing classes knows what this one is, but for those of you who haven’t done that yet, alliteration is just when you use matching letters. Or in other words, when a series of words in a sentence all start with the same letter. This one isn’t the most effective in speeches, but when used tastefully can definitely make things more interesting.
Example: Beowulf is one of the greatest examples of alliteration in literature. “Then out of the night came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift.”
Assonance is much, much more difficult to use than alliteration, but can add a really nice effect if utilized correctly. This is where you repeat the same vowel sounds in words in a sentence that are close together. Even though it may seem like it doesn’t add much, every little bit keeps your audience that much more engaged.
Example: “Go slow over the road.”
Anaphora is my absolute favorite, because it’s both incredibly easy to use and extremely effective. Need an impactful closer but don’t have any prep time? Anaphora is your answer. This is where you start out three sentences in a row with the same word. Julius Caesar used it all the way back in 47 BC with, “I came, I saw, I conquered”, and it’s still widely remembered today. Talk about effective.
Example: Caesar’s “Veni Vidi Vici”; Churchill’s “We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the landing grounds…”
Another super popular figure of speech, metaphors can be really nice if used tastefully mid-speech or in CX. This is just where you compare two unlike things or ideas for dramatic effect.
Example: “Heart of stone.”
Similes are just are easy to use and can make things way more interesting. This is just when you compare a concept with another of a different kind, making the description more vivid for your audience. A simile is usually indicated by the word ‘like’.
Example: “She is like a rose.”
A really fun one to use, personification is where you give an object a human quality. Again, super subtle, but just makes things a little bit more interesting for your audience.
Example: “Oreos: milk’s favorite cookie.”
These are the figures of speech I’ve found to be most effective in debate rounds. Want more? Check out this super in-depth list. Want to start using them? Here’s how.
1. 10 Minute Madness
Set a timer for ten minutes, and, using either your own case or a negative position, come up with as many different figures of speech as possible. This will help you be able to generate them in the heat of a round. When you finish, look back over your newly formed phrases and save the best ones for use when it counts.
2. Practice Round Power
In an informal practice round, give your partner, an audience member, or your judge a list of all the figures of speech you want to try to use in your own speech or the round. Then, have them keep track of whether or not you meet your goal. This will force you to fit these phrases into actual speeches.
3. Impactful Impacting
Force yourself to use a figure of speech in every impact you give in a practice round or drill. If you fail to do so, have your audience stop you and start the point over from the top.
*Disclaimer: all corny drill names are most definitely not patented. Feel free to use them in your club at your own risk.
Fantastic post. I certainly hope that debaters will put this stuff into practice.