Stylized language is language that communicates your meaning clearly, vividly and with flair. Stylized language doesn’t just make you sound better; it also helps make your speeches more memorable. Speakers who are thoughtful about using language strategies in their speeches are more memorable as speakers and therefore so too are their messages more unforgettable as well.
Metaphors and Similes
One strategy that promotes vivid language is the use of metaphors. Metaphors are comparisons made by speaking of one thing in terms of another. Similes are similar to metaphors in how they function; however, similes make comparisons by using the word “like” or “as,” whereas metaphors do not. The power of a metaphor is in its ability to create an image that is linked to emotion in the mind of the audience. It is one thing to talk about racial injustice, it is quite another for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to note that people have been “…battered by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.” Throughout his “I Have a Dream” speech the Reverend Dr. King uses the metaphor of the checking account to make his point.
He notes that the crowd has come to the March on Washington to “cash a check” and claims that America has “defaulted on this promissory note” by giving “the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back “insufficient funds.” By using checking and bank account terms that most people are familiar with, the Reverend Dr. King is able to more clearly communicate what he believes has occurred. In addition, the use of this metaphor acts as a sort of “shortcut.” He gets his point across very quickly by comparing the problems of civil rights to the problems of a checking account.
In the same speech the Reverend Dr. King also makes use of similes, which also compare two things but do so using “like” or “as.” In discussing his goals for the Civil Rights movement in his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Reverend Dr. exclaims: “No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down likewaters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Similes also help make your message clearer by using ideas that are more concrete for your audience. For example, to give the audience an idea of what a winter day looked like you could note that the “snow looked as solid as pearls.” To communicate sweltering heat you could say that “the tar on the road looked like satin.” A simile most of us are familiar with is the notion of the United States being “like a melting pot” with regard to its diversity. We also often note that a friend or colleague that stays out of conflicts between friends is “like Switzerland.” In each of these instances similes have been used to more clearly and vividly communicate a message.
Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~ Orson Scott Card
Remember challenging yourself or a friend to repeat a tongue twister “five times fast?” Perhaps it was “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Tongue twisters are difficult to say to say but very easy to remember. Why? Alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the initial sounds of words. Alliteration is a useful tool for helping people remember your message, and it’s as simple as taking a few minutes to see if there are ways to reword your speech so that you can add some alliteration— this is a great time to use that thesaurus we talked about putting away early in this chapter. Look for alternative words to use that allow for alliteration in your speech. You might consider doing this especially when it comes to the points that you would like your audience to remember most.
The soul selects her own society. ~ Emily Dickinson
Antithesis allows you to use contrasting statements in order to make a rhetorical point. Perhaps the most famous example of antithesis comes from the Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy when he stated, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Going back to Reverend Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition” speech he notes, “I challenge them to put hope in their brains and not dope in their veins.” In each of these cases, the speakers have juxtaposed two competing ideas in one statement to make an argument in order to draw the listener’s attention.
You’re easy on the eyes — hard on the heart. ~ Terri Clark
Parallel Structure and Language
Antithesis is often worded using parallel structure or language. Parallel structure is the balance of two or more similar phrases or clauses, and parallel wording is the balance of two or more similar words. The Reverend Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech exemplifies both strategies in action. Indeed, the section where he repeats “I Have a Dream” over and over again is an example of the use of both parallel structure and language. The use of parallel structure and language helps your audience remember without beating them over the head with repetition. If worded and delivered carefully, you can communicate a main point over and over again, as did the Reverend Dr. King, and it doesn’t seem as though you are simply repeating the same phrase over and over. You are often doing just that, of course, but because you are careful with your wording (it should be powerful and creative, not pedantic) and your delivery (the correct use of pause, volumes, and other elements of delivery), the audience often perceives the repetition as dramatic and memorable. The use of parallel language and structure can also help you when you are speaking persuasively. Through the use of these strategies you can create a speech that takes your audience through a series of ideas or arguments that seem to “naturally” build to your conclusion.
We’re all very busy people. Perhaps you’ve got work, studying, classes, a job, and extracurricular activities to juggle. Because we are all so busy, one problem that speakers often face is trying to get their audience interested in their topic or motivated to care about their argument. A way to help solve this problem is through the use of language that personalizes your topic. Rather than saying, “One might argue” say “You might argue.” Rather than saying “This could impact the country in ways we have not yet imagined,” say “This could impact your life in ways that you have not imagined.” By using language that directly connects your topic or argument to the audience you better your chances of getting your audience to listen and to be persuaded that your subject matter is serious and important to them. Using words like “us,” “you,” and “we” can be a subtle means of getting your audience to pay attention to your speech. Most people are most interested in things that they believe impact their lives directly—make those connections clear for your audience by using personal language.