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Structure – the importance of repetition
The importance of good clear structure to good rhetoric cannot be
overstated. Its particular importance in oral rhetoric derives
from the simple fact that your audience cannot think its way through
your argument as quickly as you can and unlike a written document
they cannot pause or go back and review what they have just read.
You know what you are going to say and have made all the mental
connections already. Your audience by contrast has to listen and
to absorb all your points afresh. They may become distracted by
your first point – is it right? What about this fact they
know about that seems to disprove it? Rush your speech and while
the audience are still thinking about that first point your second
and third have been lost to the ether. The difficulties that audiences
have in keeping pace with complicated arguments explain why people
delivering instructional speeches choose to incorporate slides
The simplest way to structure your speech is
the same way that you would structure an essay:
Tell them what
you’re going to tell ‘em.
Tell them what you told ‘em.
A short introduction outlines
the points that are going to be made. There is then the meat of
the argument – following the outlined
structure. Finally, the argument is summarized. This approach to
structure aids audience comprehension in the following way: By
identifying in advance what your points will be your audience knows
what to expect
and has mentally made the necessary compartments in its brain.
Then the information comes in more detail and they can slot it
they already see the connections. Finally, you remind them what
points you made – so that if they missed it the first two
times they have definitely got it the third time round.
words – have a structure, make it visible and expect
to repeat points. The latter in particular can prove difficult
for the inexperienced because we are generally taught that repetition
is a bad thing. But repetition is essential in oral rhetoric to
the audience’s comprehension. There is no point having the
world’s best argument if you canter through it so fast nobody
can get a grip on it.
“ If you have an important point to make,
don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the
point once. Then come back
hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack.”
Structure – the importance of simplicity
In the same way that repetition facilitates the transmission of
your argument to an audience hearing it for the first time simplifying
that argument will make its comprehension easier. Does this mean
the argument itself must be simplified? Not at all. Indeed it
may be impossible to simplify the argument itself because it
is inherently complicated in terms of number of steps of reasoning
or the amount of evidence that needs to be conveyed. How then
to introduce simplicity to a complex argument? Simplify the structure.
elements of the argument must be broken down into groups. Those
groups may themselves be grouped together. The result may look
rather like the spider diagrams or mind maps sometimes used for
taking notes. (Indeed spider diagrams are a very good way of organizing
a speech – for this reason if no other.)
No matter how complex the argument it should be possible
to reduce the myriad of individual steps of reasoning and pieces
of evidence to positions on such a spider diagram. Moreover, it should
be possible to collate them into groups – even if there is
a degree of artificiality to the nature of some of the groupings.
The aim should be to create a top layer of groupings no greater than
three in number. Having done so it is only necessary to begin your
speech by outlining the top layer. This serves to reduce the complex
argument to manageable mental compartments for the audience. You
can then treat each compartment as being a miniature speech of its
own when it comes to the structure and repeat the “Introduction/Argument/Summary” structural
pattern advocated earlier.