Despite many presenters’ belief that a beautifully-designed deck cures all, no amount of visual rehab can fix a broken presentation script. Rhetorical devices – if used expertly and correctly – can elevate a dull narrative into a work of art capable of winning over the masses. Here are 3 rhetorical devices you should begin including in your presentation writing, if you haven’t already:

1. Chiasmus

To find a champion of this rhetorical device, you need not look any further than John F. Kennedy. In his probably most-recognizable speech, his 1961 Inaugural Address, he said the famous line: “Ask not what your country can for you – ask what you can do for your country.” When a speaker inverts two words or phrases within a sentence, he or she is utilizing chiasmus. In your presentations, the rhetorical device can liven up a slow narrative, create an engaging rhythm within your script, and increase the memorability of a specific point. Let’s say that a presenter is delivering a speech about the importance of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship between individual and team within your company silos.

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Here’s an example of a sentence you might find in the speaker’s notes of a slide:

“A successful individual supports the goals of the team. A successful team supports the goals of the individual.”

2. Understatement

Oftentimes, presenters employ overstatement in their presentations, which can be an expected tactic. Obviously, any business, company, or brand representative wants to position themselves at the forefront of their audience’s minds. And overstating the value of their product or service seems like an ideal route. However, if presenters hope to engage audience members on an entirely new level, we’d suggest utilizing the influence of understatement. For example, a pair of entrepreneurs could shift the focus of their presentation away from the business concept development to the audience benefit by succinctly describing the moment like this:

“Keri Ann and Johanna were in a coffee shop when they came up with the business idea. Plans were established, papers were signed, and a space was purchased… The start of our entrepreneurial careers.”

Not only does this portion of a potential presentation script allow the audience to use their imagination in terms of filling in the details that were unnecessary to cover in this situation, but it also conveys a humble tone – making you seem more relatable and trustworthy to listeners. Another perfect time to whip out understatement is during a Q&A session or debate activity, as it demonstrates an understanding of various perspectives.

3. Polysyndeton/Asyndeton

Polysyndeton is to inclusion as asyndeton is to exclusion. The element at hand? Conjunctions. When you include them in a sentence with several phrases, the presentation narrative is more drawn out. The pacing of your speech is slower. On the other hand, the exclusion of conjunctions creates a sense of urgency. The pacing of your speech is quicker. Try using a mixture of the two distinct, but related rhetorical devices throughout your presentation script to keep the audience on their toes and involved.

Here are examples of both rhetorical devices:

Asyndeton

“Tom forgot his umbrella, it was raining hard, he was running late, he passed a sidewalk stand, they sold cheap umbrellas, now he’s dry.” 

Polysyndeton

“Tom forgot his umbrella and it was raining hard and he was running late. He passed a sidewalk stand and they sold cheap umbrellas and now he’s dry.”

The list of rhetorical devices at a presenter’s disposal is almost endless. When you deem a deck in need of a makeover, avoid stopping at fresh, new design. Examine your presentation content – the narrative and script – to find points that could be emphasized through rhetorical devices. Interested in exploring the art of captivating language? Analyze the following resources:

How Not to Approach Presentation Writing

James Tomlinson Communication Studies

The New “Bad Words” of Business Jargon


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