The use of repetition is a rhetorical device that can add impact to your speeches. We all remember Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” – and the title is a direct result of the repetition of that phrase throughout.

As he recounted the many ways in which his people were disadvantaged and discriminated against, he prefixed it with that memorable phrase ‘I have a dream’ and described his vision for the future.

It become an instant success, not just for the positive way in which the speech was couched, but because the constant repetition of his main idea resonated with us. We could not forget it and it changed a nation.

Previously, Winston Churchill used the same device to rally the British people during the dark days of World War 2 :

“…we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;

we shall never surrender,”

These words repeated in that sonorous voice struck the hearts of the people and created a determination to continue the fight. Coming, as it did, just after the fall of France, this speech was instrumental in changing the attitude of the British from one of frightened and possible capitulation to one of determined resistance.

Now, we may not need to change nations – but we may have to convince someone of a controversial idea, or change their mind about a course of action.

If so, then the use of repetition can help us too.

Martin Luther King took one phrase, “I have a dream” and around it wove the ideas and aspirations of a people. As he described the new relationships between the races in America he inspired his listeners to reach out to bring that dream into reality.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Here the speaker introduced his ideas with the same phrase making it immediately identifiable.

We can do that too by identifying the main factor in the speech. Are we trying to change the way we do something? Then that change is the main factor – it is the aim and often the aim of the speech will give us the phrase we need.

So – if we are setting out to bring change we can either focus on the negative aspects of the situation to bring in a realisation of the situation –

“If we do not change whatever it is, we face continued …..”
“If we do not change in the immediate future then we will be forced to consider ….”
“If we do not change very soon our children and our children’s children will face …..”

That should wake them up to the disaster facing them!

Or we can focus on the positives we are trying to achieve as did Martin Luther King.

Which ever way we choose, repetition of our main idea throughout the speech will help the audience identify with it. By repeating the theme you make the ideas easy to recall after the speech is finished; and that is a successful outcome.

However, like all rhetorical devices do not overdo it. Both Churchill and Martin Luther King had a strong and effective speech which they build around the repetition principle. But that the repetition was remarkably successful is shown by the fact Churchill’s speech is known as the “Fight them on the beaches” speech and we still refer to the “I have a dream” speech.

When someone gives a speech of yours a title derived from its content then you know that you have placed a continuous memory in their mind.

Recently I delivered a speech where I likened the hidden potential of people to a gift wrapped in brown paper. Something wrapped in brown paper lowers our expectation and we can devalue it merely by the way it looks. We can judge people the same way too. By repeating the brown paper analogy throughout the speech I was able to get people to see the possibility of potential.

So I was delighted when only a couple a days ago I was stopped by a friend who told me he liked my “brown paper parcel speech”

I’ve arrived!

Michele @ Trischel

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