Use the art of persuasion to good effect
Eloquent orators, skilled politicians, silver-tongued advertising executives, articulate barristers, expressive authors - all of these have a way with words and a strong command of our ever-changing language. Their aim? To persuade, inform, and inspire us to do something, buy something, feel something (*note: that sentence is one of our many rhetorical examples, so read on to find out which one it is!). It's called rhetoric.
What is rhetoric?
Rhetoric is the art of using speech or the written word to influence, persuade, or please. It can also indicate speech or discourse that purports to be significant, but is actually empty of meaning - as in, “everything the politician says is mere rhetoric.”
For the purposes of this article, and for your benefit, we're concentrating on the first definition of the word. Grasping the meaning of rhetoric and its uses can lead you to speak persuasively and write convincingly, and vice versa. It's about choosing linguistic examples that'll have the most impact on the listener or reader.
Rhetorical examples can be used to emphasise a point or drive home a meaning, and these rhetorical examples will be explored further in this article. Inserting some of them into your LinkedIn profile could really help with building your network of contacts, as well as making your page stand out from others.
How important is rhetoric and the use of rhetorical examples?
Think of some of the most famous speeches in history - Martin Luther King and his, “I have a dream” speech, “Rivers of blood,” by Enoch Powell, Winston Churchill's World War II rallying cry, “We shall fight them on the beaches…”, “Our house is on fire,” by Greta Thunberg, and Queen Elizabeth I, who proclaimed, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”
What do all these speeches have in common? For one thing, they've been recorded and remembered down the centuries and decades, but they also stick in the mind. Such is the power of rhetoric and the use of rhetorical examples.
Reflect on your greatest strengths. If, just by using words, you could persuade someone to change their opinion or buy a product, wouldn't that be an amazing and powerful thing?
Types of rhetoric with rhetorical examples
Below are the most commonly used strategies when it comes to writing and speaking persuasively, along with rhetorical examples. These might help when compiling a high impact job application email.
This is a repetition of the first consonant in a word or phrase. The sound of the consonant is continually repeated to create a sense of rhythm.
Example: “The hummingbirds hovered in heavenly harmony.”
Remember learning about these at school? Similes are designed to compare familiar subjects in an interesting and captivating way, highlighting the similarities between the two things by using comparison words such as “like,” “as,” “so,” and “than.” Because the brain conjures up images and associations more easily than adjectives, similes can elicit stronger and more effective descriptions.
Example: “Robert remained as cool as a cucumber during the tense interview.”
In this technique, the user switches the order of the words so that the second part is the reverse of the first, in order to evoke powerful emotions. The listener will have an emotional thought response to what's being said.
Example: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Euphemisms are politically correct or more savoury words used to describe something that's deemed offensive or unpleasant. Some euphemisms are amusing, or they can be used for concepts that the speaker or writer wants to downplay.
Example: “We're going to have to let you go,” which really means, “you're fired.”
This rhetorical device builds on a word, phrase, or sentence to evoke a sense of urgency or intensity in the listener or reader, by emphasising and repeating certain words.
Example: “Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter,” from Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.
A device that presents a problem and subsequent solution in one, an antanagoge gives a negative viewpoint or problem, but then immediately provides a positive solution, all wrapped up in one sentence.
Example: “He lost his job recently, but now he gets to spend more time with his family.”
Favoured by politicians, apophasis is similar to irony and can be employed to raise a controversial issue while disclaiming responsibility for it. The word derives from the Greek “apophani” which means “to deny.”
Example: “I refuse to discuss the rumour that my opponent is a drunkard.”
Anacoluthon introduces a sudden change in ideas or seemingly unrelated topics in the middle of a sentence, like a stream of consciousness, and is very common in informal conversation. As a rhetorical technique, it can be used to challenge the reader to think more deeply about what is being conveyed. The example below, from Hamlet by William Shakespeare, clearly expresses the character's fragmented state of mind, with the long hyphens indicating the shifts in thought.
Example: “To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to?
To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!”
It's the use of repetition that gives this device its power, as anadiplosis takes the same word or phrase at the end of a sentence and uses it at the beginning of the next sentence, so that a chain of thought carries through to the next idea. This allows your audience to easily follow the point you're trying to get across and emphasises the ideas being conveyed. The example is a speech given by human rights activist, Malcolm X, in 1964.
Example: “Once you change your philosophy, you change your thought pattern. Once you change your thought pattern, you change your attitude. Once you change your attitude, it changes your behaviour pattern and then you go on into some action.”
The opposite of a rhetorical question, hypophora is a device used when a speaker or writer provides a direct answer to a question they've just posed. It's often used to raise and answer questions that listeners or readers already have on their minds. See the example below, taken from Martin Luther King's speech in 1963.
Example: “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'when will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
The use of any of the above rhetorical devices can greatly add to any presentations, pitches, conversations, or speeches that you need to prepare, enabling you to captivate, persuade, and engage people with different approaches to the way you communicate.
What's the difference between rhetorical examples and rhetorical questions?
Put simply, a rhetorical question is one where the person posing the question doesn't expect an answer. It can be used to display or emphasise the speaker's opinion on a subject. It's a useful technique, often used in speeches or persuasive writing. In these cases, as there's nobody there to answer the question, it's designed to speak directly to the reader, allowing them to pause a moment to really consider the question. The effectiveness of rhetorical questions is hooking the reader in and making them think.
An example of a rhetorical question is, “can't you ever do anything right?” - something you hopefully won't hear at work - with the intention being not to query the receiver's ability but to insinuate their lack of ability.
For oratory advice and more rhetorical examples, check out some inspirational TED talks, given by professionals who've crafted their persuasive powers and know what devices to use to hold their audience's attention.
While it might be tricky to shoehorn the above rhetorical examples into your CV, you can still use persuasive language in your job search documents, especially cover letters, to attract attention and persuade the recruiting manager to reach for the phone. In the meantime, submit your CV for a free CV review, and kick start your journey to a more challenging role.*Our example at the beginning was amplification. Did you get it?