Combining rhetoric and imagery to get your point across in a speech

I’ve just been going through some video clips in preparation for a presentation I have to give next week and came across an old favourite, in which a 90 year old speaker shows how effectively imagery and the main rhetorical techniques can be combined to get a point across in a mere 75 words.

As audiences are getting younger and fewer still remember former prime minister Harold Macmillan (who later became Lord Stockton), I tend not to use this example much these days, but it’s such a fine specimen of rhetorical techniques in action that it deserves a wider audience.

In lines 1-8, he uses a metaphorical puzzle about a sinking ship that juxtaposes a contrast between two alternatives, [A]‘sinking’ or [B] making a new cross-party effort.

The first part of this contrast ends with a third item (‘go slowly down’) that contrasts with the first two (‘drastically’ and ‘tragically’), and the second part includes a three part list (‘new, determined, united’).

The solution to the puzzle (lines 9-12) then comes in the form of another contrast, this time between [A]‘ decline and fall’ and [B] ‘a new and glorious renaissance’.

Add to this his delivery, with pauses (marked by / in the transcript) coming at an average rate of one pause per 3.75 words, and it's hardly surprising that the commentator refers to it as "another masterly speech".

I used to say that, if I had to illustrate as many of the key points about rhetoric and imagery as possible with reference to a single exampe, this would be it - a view I'm not so sure about having looked in detail at some of Barack Obama's speeches (e.g. see HERE and HERE, or type 'Obama' into blog search box for more posts on his speeches. Or, for more detail on how anyone can use these techniques in any type of speech or presentation, see any of the books listed in the column on the left)).


1 Do we just / slowly / majestically / sink /

2 not perhaps drastically

3 or tragically /

4 but go slowly down like a great ship? /

5 Or shall we make / a

6 new /

7 determined /

8 united effort, / putting as far as we can / party aside. /

9 Let us / do the latter,

10 and then / historians of the future /will not describe the end of this century /

11 as the beginning / of the decline and fall of Britain /

12 but as the beginning / of a new / and glorious renaissance.


pintosal said...

The style of delivery and the imagery reminds me very much of Windton Churchill.
I wonder how much it's a reflection of their time?

Max Atkinson said...

Yes, definite echoes of Churchill, and Macmillan was sometimes referred to as the last of the Edwardians.