Picture this: a man walks into a job interview, suit freshly pressed, watch shined up, beaming with self-assurance. His interviewer takes notice, clearly impressed with how the candidate has put himself together. As far as anyone is concerned, the position is as good as filled. But as their conversation progresses, the interviewer’s face begins to fall. Doubt replaces confidence and second thoughts begin to creep in. The man tries his best to rescue the interview and get it back on track, but the damage is done.
What went wrong? It’s a simple problem with an even simpler solution. Our hypothetical man may have adopted all sorts of lessons pertaining to style—his attention to detail from head to toe is impeccable—but he has neglected a vitally important style of another kind: his own capacity of self-expression. A man’s use of language is every bit as important as fashion, grooming, and hygiene when it comes to making a solid first impression, positively influencing others, and controlling the image of himself that his physical appearance had a huge hand in creating. Simply put, who you are on the inside and outside should be as well-coordinated as your shoes are with your belt.
If you’re worried that our hypothetical man might resemble you, never fear: here’s some quick rhetorical tips to make sure that you never find yourself in a corner you can’t talk your way out of. But these aren’t the same tips you’ll find on just any website—stand up straight, make eye contact, don’t interrupt. That’s too easy. These are ways that you can change the style of your very speech itself and keep your listener on the hook.
The first is Anaphora: the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of consecutive sentences or parts of the same sentence. If you’ve heard Winston Churchill say “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields,” then you’ve heard anaphora. But it isn’t reserved for motivating a nation in wartime. It’s an easy technique that you can drop into everyday speech to lend it a sense of rhythm, unity, and, most of all, emphasis. Take these sentences: “I’m a hard-working professional and the best man for the job”, versus “I am a hard worker; I am a professional; I am the best man for the job.” Which is more effective? When using anaphora, the point gets hammered down, making the speaker sound confident in whatever he’s asserting. And confidence is contagious. If you use anaphora in the right sentence, at the right place, at the right time, to the right listener, you’ll be thrilled with the emphatic authority your speech will take on.
The second is Apophasis: the ironic and funny strategy of calling attention to a subject while denying that it should be brought up. Basically, you’re saying what you say you’re not saying. While this device is often used negatively in political campaigns—“I’m not going to bring up how incompetent my opponent is”—it can also be employed humorously: a way of breaking the ice by making your listener laugh. Sharing a joke is a great way to appear more personable, open, and friendly, and there’s nothing more stylish than humour that appeals to the intellect. If apophasis was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for most of us. Is a device like this a bit more sophisticated than your old reliable knock-knock joke? That goes without saying.
The third is Asyndeton: the omissions of conjunctions like “and,” “but,” or “so” from a sentence. To your listener, a sentence like this is quick, propulsive, convincing. It speeds your listener through the sentence, bringing them on a journey that you’re the captain of, that only stops when your point is made. Every word points to the ending and makes the subject of that sentence hit harder.
Asyndeton is every bit as authoritative and confidence-inspiring to a listener as anaphora, as it displays a speaker that is assured enough in himself and in what he’s saying that his words simply roll off the tongue without a second thought given. In fact, asyndeton is especially effective when used in accord with anaphora, much like Julius Caesar, fresh from a decisive battle victory, did so many years ago: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Conversation is an art. A man with excellent rhetorical style is one who will jump any barrier, overcome any obstacle, conquer any challenge to get his point across; to paint for his listeners a picture with words that, like his fashion choices, uniquely represents him. Using strategies like anaphora, apophasis, and asyndeton will make your linguistic palette all the more colourful.