Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but it’s also a source of ideas that can help us fashion, over time, our own style. This is especially true when it comes to studying the oratorical masters, President Ronald Reagan among them.
HIS SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS
What stylistic devices can you find in the following paragraphs, devices that you may be able to put to your own good advantage?
“When I took this oath four years ago, I did so in a time of economic stress. Voices were raised saying that we had to look to our past for greatness and glory. But we, the present-day Americans, are not given to looking backward. In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow.
“Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we have accomplished that. But in another sense, our new beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago when, for the first time in history, government, the people said, was not our master, it is our servant; its only power will be that which we the people allow it to have. That system never failed us. But for a time, we failed the system.”
Reagan used language, in this case, to influence the American public, asking them to sustain the confidence and optimism he had generated in his first term. Look at the paragraphs again and then identify specific techniques or word choices that were especially effective. Aim to find at least four.
Perhaps more than any president in recent history, Ronald Reagan captured the hearts and minds of millions across the world. An examination of his linguistic style unearths several effective techniques. How many were you able to isolate and, possibly, use in your own persuasive efforts in the future?
1) Throughout his speeches are alliterative phrases, such as “greatness and glory” in this excerpt.
2) Reagan inspires by appealing to pride, national pride in this situation: “But we…are not given to looking backward.”
3) He uses opposites, the past and also the promise of a better tomorrow.
4) Given statistics about the number of people who have faith in a higher power, he wisely bonds with the majority of his audience by using the word “blessed.”
5) He personifies, making the government a “servant” and not a “master.”
6) He uses turnaround phrases (officially known as “chiasmus”): “That system never failed us. But for a time, we failed the system.”
7) He cites historical precedent: “But in another sense, our new beginning is a continuation of that beginning created two centuries ago….”
8) He uses short sentences and simple words (many of them monosyllabic) throughout: “When I took this oath four years ago….”
9) He alludes to earlier successes as a springboard to future successes: “Four years ago, I spoke to you of a new beginning and we have accomplished that.”
APPLY THE METHODS TO YOUR OWN WRITING AND SPEAKING
Think of some message you will have to deliver in the near future, a message that you hope will influence another person(s) to take action you believe should be taken. Jot down what you plan to say.
Next, rework that message, using at least three of the techniques described in these analyses. Label the three you have selected as you incorporate them into your message of influence. Remain aware in future persuasion endeavors.
Leadership guru John Maxwell maintains that leadership is influence. You may not hold a position of leadership in your personal or professional life. But, there will always be times when you want or need to influence others. Being attuned to techniques used by language-misters will help you in those efforts.