Repeat words & ideas for impact

Want to compose a Twitter post? Express yourself in no more than 140 characters. Want to leave a voice mail? Spit out your thoughts in under a minute, or risk talking into thin air. Want people to listen to your elevator pitch? Then practise until you can cram your ideas into a 30 second sound bite.

The fast pace of 21st century life has us all communicating at Mach speed. So it’s far from surprising that the times have spawned a book entitled Talk Less Say More. In the pages of her book, communications consultant Connie Dieken urges readers to fight back against the distraction and attention-deficit affected world by learning to condense their thoughts into fewer words.

But how does her advice stack up when it comes to speeches? Is it possible to be too succinct on the podium? Yes, says longtime academic and speechwriting expert Jerry Tarver. According to Professor Tarver, it takes more words per square inch to get a point across in a speech than in writing. (He’s an American, so he doesn’t talk in metric.)

Repetition, which is considered redundant in memos, tweets and many other media, is important in speeches. Since listeners only hear the message, it often takes more than one mention for them to pick up the speaker’s important points.

“When you want your words to have the greatest impact, repeat them,” says Christopher Witt in his book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. And he calls to mind Martin Luther King’s famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, when he started a series of sentences with the phrase “I have a dream…” Of course, more recently, Barrack Obama used repetition to great effect in a famous concession speech that was built around the phrase (and sometimes stand-alone sentence): “Yes we can...”

Repetition of a series of words at the beginning of a sentence or clause is a rhetorical device. The ancient Greeks called it anaphora. It’s an effective way to emphasize important points. But, it’s not the only way.

Five Ways to Use Repetition in Your Speeches

1. Use anaphora - Repeat a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses. For example:
“It is no longer enough to make the sale. It’s important but not enough…It is no longer enough to follow through. It’s important, but not enough. It is no longer enough to remind the customer you’re still doing business at the same stand with new and improved products. It’s important, but not enough…Murray Raphel, Selling Rules! 52 Ways You Can Achieve Sales Success (Quoted in The Executive Speaker)

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, 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.” Winston Churchill (quoted in Wikipedia)

2. Tell a story or anecdote that vividly illustrates the idea.

3. Provide a statistic and then re-state it in another form. For example: Surveys show fewer than two in 10 Canadians remember taking courses in personal finance management in high school. In other words, less than 20 percent of adults in our country can recall getting instruction in how to handle their money.

4. Provide an analogy.

5. Quote someone, who virtually says the same thing. Choose someone the audience is likely to be familiar with and admire.