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Opposites Attract: Powerful Public Speaking Technique Using Contrast

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

If you’re looking to turn heads with your public speaking or your presentation, one very strong way to do this is to use an often-used but rarely-noticed twist in the way you use language – that of contrast. Did you notice how, in the last sentence just now, I used it? I said “often” used but “rarely” noticed – it’s constructions like these that stick out and, for some reason, just are fun to do. Recently, my mother who is a social worker, said that it’s common for people to refer to social workers as over-worked and under-appreciated. Again, the “over” and “under” placed next to each other works really well.

Why Contrasting Works

Our ears are trained to pick out these contrasts and even if they don’t register, our unconscious is able to isolate these constructions are musical. As a result, if you want to spruce up your public speaking or sales presentations, or whatever it is you are about to deliver to an audience, try to put these into action. A few other examples from American history include:

  • “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” – George Washington.
  • If it be great praise to please good men, surely to please evil men is a great shame.
  • How should you expect one who has ever been hostile to his own interests to be friendly to another’s?
  • “We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower.

All the above examples are a bit too classical for my taste, but the same principal holds – so many speeches today are so generic, patched together tired phrase by tired phrase. A little device like this can go a long way in terms of flash, and that’s all you need to make your speech a little more fun, and memorable.

Spend A Little Time to Improve Your Public Speaking

When I teach people how to improve the charisma in their speeches, there's a lot of times some resentment. Speakers, who are often very successful in their fields, feel like they have good substance to deliver and therefore do not need to spend much time making things stand out as much. If the audience is smart, they'll get it is a response I often get. Fine, except that the most effective teachers are the most effective communicators. Spending a little time sharpening your oratory or rhetoric forces you to structure things and boil down and distill ideas. So even though my teaching is about style of public speaking, often the style forces the substance to become more focused. So as you find ways to use these techniques, including the contrasting technique, you'll find it forces you to consider your material in a new light and improve your substance as well.

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