26February 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Repetition

If I was your writing teacher and you kept repeating the same words I would probably suggest you should use a wider vocabulary.  However, as your speaking teacher, I am more likely to tell you that
‘words that get repeated, get remembered.’ 
Many of the most common and popular rhetorical forms and devices that speakers use are built around some form of repetition, whether repetition of words, rhythms, structures, or phrases.
The BBC has a popular speaking game called ‘Just a minute’ where the rules state that a speaker should try to speak on a given topic avoiding, repetition, deviation, and hesitation.  If another contestant notices the repetition of a word, that the speaker is drifting off-topic, or simply that they are stuttering or hesitating, they are allowed to interrupt.
In Public Speaking repetition is often very good, deviation is quite acceptable as long as the speaker knows how to get back onto the subject – and so maybe only the hesitation is a bad sign.

The most effective speeches have a simplicity of structure and a clarity of message so simple repetition will be an effective tool for achieving this.
Many speeches, particularly political speeches have a simplicity akin to a Nursey Rhyme or an early learning story.
In children’s stories the repetition, as well as setting up a pleasing rhythm for the child, is a good way of embedding new vocabulary and teaching new words.
As we get older we still appreciate the comfort of the rhythm in a speech and the simplicity and repetition of vocabulary embeds the speaker’s message.
When Steve Jobs delivered his ‘1984’ speech introducing the new marketing strategy to the staff at Apple, he compared IBM to the repressive evil state power of ‘Big Brother’ in George Orwell’s novel 1984
There was very little ambiguity in the speech, IBM was blacker than black, like the ‘baddy’ in children’s literature and Apple was whiter than white as the new fledgling brave hero, set up to fight against the overwhelming odds of the evil empire.
The structure is very much like a child’s story, with each section introduced by a date:
It is 1958
It is 10 years later, late ‘60s,
It is now 10 years later the late ‘70s
The early ‘80s. - 81
- all leading to the climax of
It is now 1984
And after each date, Jobs develops his picture of  an enemy, slow threatening lugubrious, reminiscent of WB Yeats’  anti-Christ spectre in ‘The Second Coming’,
‘A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, moving its slow thighs’
There is nothing subtle about Job’s speech.  It creates its impact through the repetition of form, rhythm, and words and by an extreme contrasting characterisation of the two competitors.
If you want subtlety – read a novel
For a speech you want clarity and that usually means repetition.

10 types of repetition in Public Speaking

  1. Give a dog a (bad) name

While we are still thinking of children’s literature, and we think about the name-calling of the primary school playground, one figure springs to mind: Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is the master of name-calling. Again it is not subtle but it is brutally effective.
Repeatedly referring to Hilary Clinton as ‘crooked Hilary’ and Joe Biden as ‘Sleepy Joe’ embeds the terms, reinforces his message, and gives his supporters easy terminology to use against their opponents when they go away after the speech.
Boris Johnson copied this with his ‘Captain Hindsight’ moniker for Keir Starmer.  He had created a catchy short-hand to suggest that Keir Starmer was only ever being wise after the event.
And as the greatest sin in politics seems to be changing your mind, regular taunting of the opposition with the term ‘flip-flop’ occurs before every major election.
And of course, in the name of balance,  this technique does not always have to be used negatively, you could also repeatedly refer to ‘our hero’ or ‘Captain Magnificent’.  The effect is the same.

  1. Anaphora

This is a basic form of repletion where the opening words of successive phrases start the same.
Ecclesiastes tells us ‘to everything there is a season’ and then lists around 24  examples, including:
A time to lose and a time to seek,
a time to rend and a time to sew,
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.
Apart from the pleasing rhythm, repeated words can be used to emphasise the message.
Many speakers will use this format as a way of treading water as they think about the next point they want to make.
If I tell you:
I believe in the dignity of man
I believe that every man should be given a chance
I believe it is through tolerance and understanding  that we become truly human
The repetition gives me a moment to gather my thoughts before I move on to the next thought, which will probably be introduced with a big ‘therefore…’ or if I want to go in the other direction, a big ‘however…’

  1. Epistrophe

This is pretty much the same – only the repetition is at the end of the phrase rather than the beginning.
Back to the bible
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
and as you say these words you can feel the tension building through the repetition until it is resolved with
When I became a man,
I put the ways of childhood behind me.

  1. Simploce

This is the deluxe version where we use both together.
I give you John F Kennedy in Berlin (‘ich bin ein Berlliner’ – which as all German speakers know means ‘I am a doughnut’)
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.
There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.
And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.
And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

And this is a good example of how we can mix and match the elements of repetition and rhythm.
‘Let them come to Berlin’ remains the same at the end of each line, but the first part of each sentence increases in intensity and emphasis as we move from ‘many’ to ‘some’ to ‘even a few’.

  1. Epizeuxis

This is the rhetorical equivalent of a sledge hammer.
Education. Education. Education.
Growth. Growth. Growth.
No. No. and No.
For increased effect it is usually set up with a phrase like:
‘I have three priorities!’

  1. Tricolon

Keeping to the theme of threes, this is a phrase that is crafted to that the rhythm sets up the sense of repetition allowing the words to demonstrate a progression or set of contrasts.
Winston Churchill observed:
Dogs look up to us
Cats look down on us
Pigs treat us as equals
The syllable count and points of stress of the first two lines are identical, which sets of the up /down contrast.
The third line has a different rhythmic arrangement, to set the up/down against the equals.
And let us not forget Abraham Lincoln:
Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

  1. Anadiplosis

This is a wonderful way of creating a progression by repeating the end of one line at the beginning of the next.  Very profound when Gandhi tells us:
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
However, the structure is so powerful and hypnotic that it can be used to suggest a sequence when none really exists:

Too much chocolate leads to depression
Depression leads to reflection
Reflection leads to loathing
Loathing leads to self-indulgence
Self-indulgence leads to Lidl
And Lidl leads back to chocolate

  1. Polyptoton

One of my favourite devices, as it allows you the use repetition in a subtle way
(the exact opposite of Epixeuzis).  This is where the repetition lies in the root of a word:
A singer who sang a beautiful song
A builder who built a magnificent building
You can make your point without sounding too obvious.

  1. Diacope

At least once in every James Bond film. 
Name? – Bond. James Bond.
Its impact is in the repetition of the surname. 
I could suggest that what you intend to do is ‘a mistake, a big mistake’
Or I could contemplate like Hamlet and start my thoughts with
To be or not to be.
If I wanted to emphasise my surname I could answer:
Bond. Bond. James Bond.
That might be a bit much but for Richard III
A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse
works well. As does
Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?
Or if you really want to come to terms with reality, as Othello realise having murdered Desdemona
‘my wife my wife what wife I have no wife’

  1. What is your point?

Putting all rhetorical devices to one side the simplest and best repetition comes from having a clear theme and a clear message.  If my message to you is that you should ‘believe in yourself’, the words believe and belief will regularly appear in my talk and because they are part of my key message they will get extra weight and emphasis in my delivery.
If you ask me what I am going to talk about and I tell you It is about the challenges we have in life and how we need to face up to them and not doubt ourselves and keep moving forward – that is rather vague and will probably come across as meandering.

However, if I replied:
‘It is all about Belief, self-belief’
Not only is that clear, I have even given you a little Diacope to help lodge it in your mind.


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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.