Hillary Clinton, the Master of Repetition and Parallel Structure – Your Communication Tip of the Day


When I teach speech, and presentation skills, I focus very strongly on this point:  we need to master the use of parallel structure, with repetition, repetition, repetition…

Since people’s minds drift as they listen to a speech/presentation, we have to learn the power of repetition.  If we say something enough times, it might be heard, and “stick.”  The Heath brothers have great advice about “sticky” messages in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.  (Read my recent article about this book here).  But before implementing their wisdom, we have to learn first to “pound it in” – to “pound our message in” with repetition, repetition, repetition…  Parallel structure, repetition – these are key.

In my sessions, I hand out excerpts from Dr. King’s I Have a Dream:

I have a dream that one day…
I have a dream that one day…
I have a dream that one day… 

Let freedom ring from…
Let freedom ring from…
Let freedom ring from…

(Actually, Dr. King used many phrases repetitively in this masterpiece.  I Have a Dream is kind of the Super Bowl Champion of the power of repetition).

And I hand out excepts from Hillary Clinton’s 1995 Speech on Women:

It is a violation of human rights when…
It is a violation of human rights when…
It is a violation of human rights when…

I even hand out the surrender document (The “Instrument of Surrender”), signed by the Japanese at the end of World War II.  Though not a speech, but a written document, it too demonstrates the clarity and strength of repetition and parallel structure:

We hereby command…
We hereby command…
We hereby command…

The Honoroable Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Conference 2013. (Marc Bryan-Brown)
The Honoroable Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Women in the World Conference 2013. (Marc Bryan-Brown)

I will now add the latest from Hillary Clinton, from her speech given just this week at the Women in the World Conference 2013:

If America is going to lead, we need…
If America is going to lead, we need…
If America is going to lead, we need…
That’s how America will lead in the world.

Most speakers “ramble” just a touch, or more than a touch, in their speeches.  Practicing this discipline can pull the speakers, and their audience, “back in.”

So, here is your communication tip of the day.  Make sure you have at least one phrase in your speech that you repeat multiple times.  (It can be particularly effective to use this technique with each of your main points).

Pound it in.  Say it with effective verbal punch.  It’s what your audience might actually remember.  So make it memorable.

——————–

And, to state the obvious, I agree with the message in Hillary Clinton’s speech.  And I admire her for giving this message, over and over again (her “repetitive life message”), for so many years.  I encourage you to read her speech.
Considering the current call for women to “Lean In,” Hillary Clinton knows how to do just that.

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