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Rhetoric - What’s That To Do With Me?

What Is This Thing Called Rhetoric?
Should I Use It?
Simile And Metaphor
Figures of Speech

Brian Micklethwaite
Wolverhampton Speakers Club 2017

Rhetoric - Good or Bad?

What is rhetoric?

Rhetoric often has a bad press - it’s either thought of as a way others (politicians, salesmen etc) try to fool you into doing something by using ‘fancy’ language, or some stuffy old Greek art that means nothing to us today.

In fact, a dictionary definition has two opposing entries:
  • The art of speaking and writing effectively, especially using figures of speech.
  • Clever language that sounds good but is not sincere and has no real meaning
But there’s also another definition:
  • Skill in the ways of using language effectively
How, then, do we use rhetoric in our speeches?

What is our kind of rehetoric?

Undoubtedly rhetorical techniques can be used for positive or negative effect - it can be used to bring out the meaning of things or to cover them up.

So we will simply look at rhetoric as
the skill of using language effectively; rhetoric, for us, is one of the tools we can use to enhance our speaking and marshalling our language to convey our meaning in an eloquent and satisfying way.

We have already looked at some techniques of rhetoric in the previous booklet ‘Aspects of Public Speaking’.

Figures of Speech

So for us Rhetoric simply means using figures of speech to make what we speak more ear-catching and effective - we will draw attention to what we say by the words that we use and how we use them.

Can you build them into your speeches?

What we know already

In the previous booklet, Aspects of Public Speaking, we looked at:
  • Repetition
  • Hyperbole
  • Alliteration
  • Elision and contraction

What’s in this booklet?

In this booklet we will briefly look at some more ways with words and give you some examples. We will start, though, with two important figures of speech - Simile and Metaphor.


Simile’ is very close to our word ‘similar’ and that’s what this figure of speech is all about: we add depth and impact to our words by comparing them to something else that may or (usually) not be similar in some way so as to highlight and make memorable what we want to get across by the comparison we use.

By using a simile we paint an attention-grabbing picture in the mind of our audience. They can be serious, funny, devastating. but are (or should be) always creative. You will be familiar with similes because they can be found anywhere where language is used, and we use them in everyday life.

The essential thing about a simile is that we use either the word ‘like’ or the word ‘as’ and the format of a simile is:

(something) is like (something else) or
(something) is as (feature) as a (something else)

Some examples of simile

My love is like a red, red rose
Her room was a clean as a whistle
He’s as dotty as a box of frogs
I slept like a log last night
As tall as a giraffe
At the height of the storm the Boatswain reeled on deck like a drunken man
His speech was as clear as mud
Don’t just sit there like the Queen of Sheba - do something!
His presentation went down like a lead balloon


A Metaphor is related to a simile in that we again use a comparison, but a metaphor is far more subtle and powerful because here we do not say that something is LIKE something else - we imply that it IS something else, however strange that might be. This gives us the opportunity to use some exciting, powerful and compelling phraseology. You do, though, have to use your imagination to come up with a good metaphor.

With a metaphor we do not use the words ‘like’ or ‘as’, so we would say ‘all the world’s a stage rather that ‘all the world is like a stage’ - you can easily see which one makes the most impact.

Metaphors are meant to create a vivid picture in the minds of your audience (often by exaggeration) and so have greater impact. See the difference between the simple ‘he was sad’ and the much more vivid ‘he was wallowing in a sea of grief’. Metaphors add more force to an otherwise plain statement and so make your point more effective.

Some examples of metaphor

She felt she was sitting on a rollercoaster of emotions
It’s raining cats and dogs
Her voice on the telephone was music to his ears
My son’s room is a disaster area
You are my sunshine
The couch potato did not stir when his mother came into the room
The galaxy is a glowing garden of beauty
Thank you, you are an angel
The Dragons knew his ambitions were a house of cards

Some More Figures of Speech

There are a lot more figures of speech that you might use from time to time. Here we will briefly describe some of them to you and give one or two examples. Just in case you are interested, we will also give their rhetoric names!

Saying three things (Tricolon)

Veni; Vide; Vice’ - ‘I came; I saw: I conquered’ is an example of a Tricolon. So is ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ - and we’e sure that Julius Caesar did both!

A Tricolon employs three words or phrases in quick succession without anything interrupting them. The three parts of a tricolon bring a sense of completeness to emphasise what you are saying. Sometimes the three parts can build to a climax (or even an anticlimax) by increasing or decreasing the tension (‘Ready, Steady, Go!’), and the third part can be used (if you wish) to break the pattern for effect or for humour.

Sometimes the three parts are identical: ‘Location, Location, Location’ or they may use alliteration - ‘sun, sex and sangria’.

Sometimes the rhythm of three equal parts makes what you are saying more memorable to your audience, but sometimes the third part is longer, to good effect.

The main purpose of Tricolon is to make things more memorable.

Nouns and adjectives (Hendiadys)

This is simply the replacing a noun and an adjective by two nouns and a conjunction e.g. ‘furious sound’ replaced by ‘sound and fury’.


Antithesis does what it says on the tin: two opposite ideas are put together to create a contrasting effect and can convey meaning more effectively than everyday speech. You can also use it to highlight the pros and cons of a particular idea - ‘speech is silver but silence is gold’.

Antithesis can, however, just degenerate into epigrams so beloved of Oscar Wilde - ‘Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear’.

Rhetorical question

Here we ask a question that is not meant to be answered by anyone in the audience. You can use it as a lead-in to:
  • Assert something
  • Reveal an answer from the question itself
  • Be a tag to enable you to further your argument
  • Fling out a challenge

How do we use them?

We’ve covered just a few of the figures of speech that you might use in your speeches. You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to, but do consider them.

Don’t overload a speech with them but used sparingly, imaginatively and sensitively they can turn a plain phrase into something that makes an impact and is memorable.

Happy rhetoric!