Rhetorical Devices

Speech Balloon with Rhetorical Devices Text


When I first joined Toastmasters International, my fourth speech required me to use rhetorical devices. None of my club members knew what a rhetorical device was, let alone able to provide me with examples.

Now I know what a rhetorical device is and I also know that there are hundreds of them. The three that come to mind are analogies, alliterations and hyperboles. Click here if you want to check out another 156 rhetorical devices.

The question is, what exactly is a rhetorical device? And how can it help you connect better with your audience? Put simply and according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively. So any device that helps you do that is a rhetorical device. And any rhetorical device that helps you grab your audience’s attention and gets your point across more clearly, succinctly and effectively, will help you connect better with your audience.

Note, rhetorical devices are also sometimes referred to as literal devices or figures of speech.

The rhetorical devices I have chosen to explain are the ones that I think are most relevant to speakers. And these are:

Metaphors, Similes, Analogies.
Tricolon, Hendiatris.
Alliterations, Hyperboles, Sententias, Allusions.
Rhetorical QuestionsHypophoras.

Metaphors, Analogies & Similes


The other big question is, “What’s the difference between a metaphor, a simile and an analogy?” All three are rhetorical devices.

Doing my research for this post, I found an academic paper on simile that used one hundred and twenty thousand words. So let me describe it more simply; all the above three rhetorical devices compare two different things.

Their purpose is to simplify, clarify and help you understand or argue your point better. You could also refer to them as, “Poetic comparisons.”

I think it’s interesting to note that at a Toastmasters semi-final international speech contest, each speaker used either an analogy, a metaphor or a simile as the basis for their speech. And I believe it made their message shorter, clearer and helped them connect.

A Metaphor

Raining Cats & Dogs

What is a metaphor?
A metaphor states an unreal or inexact comparison.

“Life is a rollercoaster ride” is a metaphor.
“She’s not a shrinking violet and “All the world’s a stage” are metaphors.

Another good example of a longer metaphor comes from Wikipedia. It’s attributed to Abraham Lincoln in a speech about a political adversary. Lincoln said that his adversary had “dived down deeper into the sea of knowledge and come up drier than any other man he knew”.

A Simile

Singing Angel

What is a simile?
“Life is like a rollercoaster ride” is a simile.
“Life is as exciting as a rollercoaster” is also a simile.

That is, a simile suggests a likeness or resemblance between two things. See it as being related to the word similar.

An Analogy

Red & Green Stoplights with Speeding & Braking Cars Respectively

What is an analogy?
“Life, with its good days and bad days is similar to a rollercoaster ride with its ups and downs”, is an analogy.

That is, analogies are used to present logical arguments and discussions using comparisons.

Another form of a comparative analogy is: Green is to go, as a red is to stop.

Tricolor and Hendiatris


I have put both these two rhetorical devices under the one heading, as they’re both examples of the Rule of Three, also referred to as the Power of Three.

There is something complete about three things, although no one knows exactly why.

It’s said among speakers that two is a comparison, four is a list, three is rhetoric. I also like the saying by Darren LaCroix who said, “If you need more than three examples, get better examples.”


Barack Obama

A tricolon is the use of three words, phrases or sentences usually similar in structure, length and rhythm.

Two famous tricolons are:

“Veni, vidi, vici”, Latin for, I came, I saw, I concurred.

And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba…” by Barack Obama at the at Memorial Service for Former South African President Nelson Mandela


A hendiatris, however, is a very much like the tricolons above, however in this case, three successive words express a central idea. That is:

“Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”

“Veni, vidi, vici”, Latin for I came, I saw, I conquered, which is attributed to Julius Caesar. Note that its both a tricolon and a hendiatris.

And “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, the motto of the French Republic.

Other Rhetorical Devices

While I won’t be describing all rhetorical devices here, I will give you an insight into a few that I believe will help you connect as a speaker. These are Alliterations, Hyperboles, Sententias, Allusions.


An alliteration can be seen as a stylistic literary device, where the initial consonant sounds of nearby words are repeated. Note that the use of vowel sounds are referred to as assonance.

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, is the first line of one of Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes of the same name. It’s a rather extreme example of an alliteration, however it is a clear example.

“John cooked cupcakes in the kitchen.”
“The foundational education program in schools is based on, reading, writing and arithmetic.”
Phillips feet smelled foul.”

The three alliterations above are examples indicating that it’s the consonant sounds that are the key to an alliteration not necessarily the letters. The second one also uses the power of three.

The benefit of alliterations is that it gives your sentence rhyme, rhythm and resonance. Many song lyrics, like “Speaking words of wisdom” in the Beatles’ song “Let It Be”, use alliterations to improve musicality.

As a speaker, alliterations make for an un-forgettable, foundational phrase.

For more insight and examples of alliterations click here.


Upside Down Horse on Dining Table

A hyperbole, pronounced high-purr-ball-lee, is an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally.

As a speaker or writer, a hyperbole will help you to clearly, vividly and persuasively get your point across, every single time. Ok, most of the time.  I didn’t mean to use a hyperbole.

By using a hyperbole, you’re exercising your flair for the dramatic.

An good example of a hyperbole is, “My mom works her fingers to the bone.”


Basket of Eggs with Red Prohibition Sign

Don’t be put of by the name. Although the name sounds quite foreign, well it does to me anyway, its usage is quite common.

Sententia is the use of a famous proverb, maxim, quotation or saying to support one’s argument, point or message.

As a speaker, using a proverb for example, can lead to clear understanding in a concise manner, provide credibility and/or truth and support your point.

Two examples are “Look before you leap,” and “he who hesitates is lost.”

However, use sententiae, in the form of quotes, judiciously. As Darren LaCroix, comedian and speaker says, “Be quotable.” The best way to use quotes is to refer to how the quote affects you or has meaning for you. Using often-used quotes, like “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, by Thomas Edison, will have everyone screaming and running for the exits. However, if you were to say, “As Martin Luther King Jr. said…” and instead of the expected “I have a dream” reference, you present a rare quote by Martin Luther King that only few people have heard, is a powerful strategy. Especially if you present it at the start of your presentation to set up your topic and gain their attention.



As the word suggests, allusions allude to, refer to, or hint at well known events, plays, books, films, stories, persons or quotes, to name but a few.

One of the benefits is that it helps your listeners understand your point immediately and in a succinct way.

An example of an allusion is, “Don’t be a Scrooge!” This refers to Ebenezer Scrooge from the 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and Walt Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, based on Ebenezer Scrooge. Both were very tight with their money. But you already knew that.

Allusions help us connect with our audience in a concise, powerful and memorable way. Check out a good list of allusions here.

Rhetorical Questions

The Thinker

You’ve probably heard of a rhetorical question. A question that you really don’t want answered, but do want people to think about and answer in their own minds.

I once started a speech, titled “Talent”, with the rhetorical question “Have you ever failed miserably, at some time in your life?” This is obviously a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is a powerful way to connect and tap into your audience’s mind and transport them into what you want to demonstrate.

Using a rhetorical question is a great way to start a speech to get the audience’s attention and to help connect immediately.


Question and Answer

A hypophora is similar to a rhetorical question, however the difference is that the speaker answers the question.

An example is, “Who wants to be a speaker and why? Because you can make a difference.” Strictly speaking the question is the hypophora and the answer is the anthypophora.


That’s all Folks!

A rhetorical device is a powerful way to get your message across in a concise, effective and memorable way.

They can be used in combination. For example, when Donald Trump concluded his Congress speech by saying, “Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America.” He used the rule of three and at the same time used a tricolon and a anaphora, that is repeating the same word “believe” three times. Rhetorical devices help you connect.

Speak to Connect, and make that difference.