Voice Skills

by Judy Apps

Rhythm

Words are music. They have their own rhythm. We often remember great phrases because of their rhythmic impulse.

Rhetorical rule of three

This is one of the most famous rhythmic patterns, used by public speakers from the ancient Greeks to present-day politicians. The speaker says a word or short phrase, then a second that resembles it in shape, and then culminates in a third that is longer and cements the impact.

Example

Jam tomorrow,

and jam yesterday,

but never jam today.

Life,

liberty,

and the pursuit of happiness.

These are not dark days,

these are great days

– the greatest days our country has ever lived.

It’s a great device, giving the third and last item a memorable impact.

Iambic pentameter

This phrase, by Churchill, is an example of the five-beat rhythm beloved of Shakespeare. The iambic pentameter has often been used to strong effect in powerful speeches.

Example

Churchill:

the greatest days our country has ever lived.
  1 2   3   4 5

Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be, that is the question.
  1   2   3 4     5

Making music

Great speakers mix longer sentences with shorter pithy ones, and never allow the listener to get bored or lulled into a monotonous rhythmic pattern. As with music, a speech or presentation needs rhythmic variety, pace and direction.

Research

Example

A diamond is forever.

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

If you want to find some good rhythms, look at poetry or the speeches of statesmen of the past. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech has wonderful rolling rhythms. Sir Winston Churchill used masterful rhythms and is much imitated by today’s politicians.

Look, too, at the world of advertising, where the quest is always on for the phrase that will be remembered forever. The rhythm needs to work for this to happen.

When you find good rhythmic material, try speaking the words out loud to feel their ebb and flow.