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Literary Techniques for your Speech, with Examples Analyzed

March 2, 2021 - Dom Barnard

Planned use of language has a major impact on how your speech is received by the audience. Saying the right words at the right time, and in the right way, can achieve a specific impact.

Use language to achieve impact

Careful use of language has produced many powerful speeches over the years. Here are a few literary devices you can employ for your next speech.

Rhetorical Questions

Start your next presentation with an open question. It engages the audience and gets them thinking about your speech early on. Use questions throughout and leave pauses after, letting the audience think about an answer.

Pause at the Right Moment

This adds impact to sentence just before or after the pause. This is a good literary technique to use for the key message of your speech. Don’t be afraid to wait 3-5 seconds before speaking, adding maximum impact to your words.


Messages and words are remembered best in groups of three. The power of three is used in all aspects of speaking in public and by the media. Couple words in groups of three with alliteration for maximum impact, such as “They grew up with a long, lasting, love for each other.”

Repeat the Key Point

A technique used frequently by politicians, a word needs to be said on average 5 times before the audience begins to take in what is being said.

Dramatic Contrast

Contrasting two points, such as “Ten years ago we had a reputation for excellence. Today, we are in danger of losing that reputation.”

For additional literary techniques, check out these links:

Spend time planning which of these language techniques you will use in your speech. You can add these in after your first draft of the speech has been written.

Two great speeches analyzed

1. Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream

Transcript snippet

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

Literary devices and techniques used

Anaphora – Repetition of the “I have a dream” phrase at the beginning of each sentence.

Metonymy – The phrase “The let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia… Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee… Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi“, King uses these well-known racist locations to enhance his point.

Hyperbole – King uses the words ‘all’ and ‘every’ many times, exaggerating his point, “when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city”

Alliteration – used throughout the speech, alliterations add a poetic quality to the speech, for example this sentence “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Amplification – King repeats many of his points a second time, with greater emphasis and explanation the second time, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”

Speeches which mastered literary techniques

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – I Have A Dream
  • Winston Churchill – We shall fight on the beaches
  • John F. Kennedy – Inaugural Address
  • Margaret Thatcher – The Lady’s Not For Turning
  • Barack Obama – The Audacity Of Hope
  • Elizabeth Gilbert – Your Creative Genius
  • J. K. Rowling – Harvard Commencement Address

For addition detail on these speeches, check out this article on speeches that changed the world.

Winston Churchill speaking

2. Winston Churchill – We shall fight on the beaches

Transcript snippet

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end.

We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

And if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Literary devices and techniques used

Anaphora – The repetition of the phrase “we shall fight” can be seen in the transcript snippet. This adds dramatic emphases on the words he is saying in these paragraphs.

Alliteration – Churchill uses repetition of letters to emphasize the dark time Europe was in, “I see also the dull, drilled, docile, brutish masses of the Hun soldiery plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts” and “your grisly gang who work your wicked will.”

Antistrophe – The repetition of words at the end of successive sentences, “the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace“.

Hypophora – Churchill asks various questions and then answers them himself, “You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air” and “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word, it is victory”.

Rule of Three – Churchill uses this literary technique in many of his speeches, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning” and “Never before in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many, to so few”.

Easy to use literary techniques for your next speech

Rhetoric Question

Start your next speech with a rhetoric question – “Who here has used a virtual reality headset?”

Repetition of Phrase

Repeat a key phrase around 5 times throughout the speech, the phrase should be short – “Virtual reality is changing the world”.

Use the Rule of Three

Emphasize a product or service by describing it with three words – “Our software is faster, cheaper and easier to use”. For greatest impact on your audience, combine this with alliteration.


Ask a question then immediately answer it – “How many virtual reality headsets were sold last month? Over 2 million.”