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... 10 Language Techniques To Use In Presentations (Part 1)

... 10 Language Techniques To Use In Presentations (Part 1)

Great leaders use Power Language to grab audience interest and to be persuasive. There are ten core Power Language techniques that they use to create stand-out talks and presentations.

Using the same techniques, you can make your public speaking more engaging, memorable and persuasive.

Remember that these techniques are specific to spoken language, which requires different skills to written language. Words that are effective when read on a page don’t have the same impact when spoken, and vice versa.

Some of these techniques can be used to structure your talk or presentation, while others should be used sparingly. Like seasoning in a meal, they should add subtle flavour without being overly pungent.

So, refer back to these ten techniques (first 5 below, next 5 in following post) when you are planning your next talk or presentation. Once you have identified your audience and clarified your messages, swap out any bland language and sprinkle in these Power Language techniques instead:

  1.  Present a puzzle or problem

  2.  Choose phrases with alliteration

  3.  Group information into sets of three

  4.  Use rhetorical questions

  5.  Use rhyme (sparingly)

  6.  Repeat and restate your messages

  7.  Use contrasting pairs

  8.  Explain new concepts by using metaphors, similes and analogies

  9.  Stick to short words or phrases

  10.  Replace impersonal pronouns with ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’


1. Present a puzzle or problem

Describe an unsolved puzzle or problem. You could do this in your introduction, or at the start of a new section of your talk or presentation. It creates tension in the minds of your audience, which they will want to resolve. If the puzzle or problem is sufficiently compelling, your audience will be switched on, waiting to hear your potential solution.

At the start of her TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, sets out a problem by using startling statistics:

“The problem is this: women are not making it to the top of any profession, anywhere in the world. The numbers tell it quite clearly. 190 heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 per cent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top – C-level jobs, board seats – tops out at 15, 16 per cent.”

On hearing this, we feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and wait to hear what Sheryl will suggest can be done about it.


2. Choose phrases with alliteration

Alliteration is when a sequence of words share the same starting letter or sound. This gives a poetic flow to your spoken language, and makes key messages more memorable.

Alliteration can also infer balance, so it is often used in British Budget statements. For example, George Osborne’s ‘Road to Recovery’ and these three phrases from Philip Hammond’s Spring Budget 2017 Speech:

“I report today on an economy that has continued to confound the commentators with robust growth.”

“And our task today is ttake the next steps in preparing Britain for a global future.”

“And Mr Deputy Speaker, there’s one further area in which I can announce action to back British businesses.”

Alliteration comes with a health warning, however. Don’t force it, by choosing long or unfamiliar words to achieve alliteration, like the insults created by former Vice President Spiro Agnew for those he disagreed with:

“nattering nabobs of negativism; pusillanimous pussyfoots; hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history…”


3. Group information into sets of three

Speeches, slogans and soundbites are full of phrases comprising three parts. As children we read about the Three Little Pigs, in our teens we watch trilogies and as adults we encounter triads constantly – in marketing (‘reuse, reduce, recycle’), in mottos (‘location, location, location’) and in politics (‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’).

Listing three items provides for sufficient substance while still being easy for an audience to process and remember. Any more, and we struggle to hold all the concepts in our head at once.

In this video for Fast Company, Harvard Business School Professor John P. Kotter answers the question, ‘How do you create a culture of innovation?’ using a list of three:

“In terms of getting people to experiment more and take more risk, there are at least three things that immediately come to my mind. Number one, of course, is role-modelling it yourself. Number two is, when people take intelligent, smart risks and yet it doesn’t work out, not shooting them. And number three, being honest with yourself.”


4. Use rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions prompt your audience to think about your topic. They can also lead people to arrive at a conclusion by themselves. This is much more persuasive than telling your audience what to think.

Researchers found that the impact of rhetorical questions varied, depending on the strength of the speaker’s argument and the personal relevance of the topic to the audience. For strong arguments on topics of low personal relevance, rhetorical questions enhanced persuasiveness. This was also true for weak arguments on topics with a high personal relevance.

Other research found that rhetorical questions makes the speaker appear more polite and likeable (Bates, 1976) and that the mere presence of rhetorical questions signals a strong argument (Zillmann, 1972).

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg combined the use of rhetorical questions with two sets of three in this excerpt from her Barnard College Commencement Address:

“What about the rat race in the first place? Is it worthwhile? Or are you just buying into someone else’s definition of success? Only you can decide that, and you’ll have to decide it over and over and over. But if you think it’s a rat race, before you drop out, take a deep breath. Maybe you picked the wrong job. Try again. And then try again.”


5. Use rhyme (sparingly)

Occasional use of rhyme can add rhythm to your talks and presentations and make your message more memorable. One study also showed that people are more likely to believe something is true if it rhymes.

You could use a short rhyme as a slogan for your main message, for example:

  • Jack Welch’s ‘Rank and yank’ policy of firing the bottom 10% of his company.

  • Richard Branson’s, ‘Screw it, let’s do it’ approach to new projects.

  • David Cameron’s ‘This isn’t job done; it is job begun’ at his 2014 party conference speech.

You could imply a stronger link between two concepts, by using similar-sounding words to refer to them, e.g. ‘Your attitude determines your altitude’. Or you could use internal rhyme (not at the end of sentences) for a more subtle use of rhyme that makes a sentence sound more delightful to the ear.

For example, Winston Churchill said:

“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge. Humanity, not legality, should be our guide.”

Like alliteration, rhyme is another technique to use sparingly. If more than two sentences rhyme, your audience may perceive that part of your talk or presentation as childish or contrived.

(This article was published with permission from the authors, Benjamin Ball Associates. I can vouch for the quality of their communication training from personal experience.)

10 Language Techniques To Use In Presentations (Part 2)

10 Language Techniques To Use In Presentations (Part 2)

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