Repetition: A Proven, Valuable Public Speaking Tool

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Ministers and other clergy need to be good speakers. My minister is a skillful speaker, and Sunday after Sunday, I’;ve listened to her give thoughtful, memorable sermons. Her voice inflections and gestures highlight points. Often she leaves the podium to get closer to the congregation. She also repeats sentences.

Why would a speaker do this? For some (not the minister of my church), it’;s a way to calm their nerves. Repeating a sentence sounds intentional, and at the same time, gives a nervous speaker a moment to adjust. But there are other good reasons for anaphora, the term speaking coaches use for repeating a phrase or word.

Susan King writes about anaphora in her article, "Public Speaking: Repeating Words to Grab the Audience," posted on the Great Speaking Coach website. She thinks Dr. King’;s "I Have a Dream" speech is memorable because of repetition. "He took one single phrase and made it a refrain or anthem that sings in our hearts …" she writes.

But you do not have to repeat a sentence to make your presentation memorable. Repeating a single word can drive a main point home. Listeners may remember your presentation because of this word. Indeed, it may symbolize your entire talk.

If you choose to repeat a word, phrase, or sentence, you must do it delicately, and not rush. Edward P. Bailey write about delivery in his book, A Practical Guide for Business Speaking. He tells speakers to start fast and to project energy. Although you’;re projecting energy, pauses are still important, according to Bailey. "Think of pauses as punctuation," he advises, and it’;s good advice.

My minister may pause after speaking a key sentence to give listeners a chance to "digest" it. Then she repeats the entire sentence. Her unspoken message: I want you to pay attention and remember this. Like any speaking tool, however, repetition can be overused. If you do this too often, listeners may think you’;re short on substance and filling time.

Written repetition works as well. Years ago, I gave a talk to a group of teaching assistants. I made a sign for the talk and it said, "One." Every time I made a point about the uniqueness of each child, I pointed to the word on the sign. By the end of the speech the students understand the concept of individualism.

Robert Frost’;s poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," also illustrated repetition. This is a story poem and to complete the story and make the reader feel his emotions, Frost repeated the line, "And miles to go before I sleep." This repetition gives the reader a sense of the miles yet to be traversed.

I’;ve used repetition in my presentations, but I do not think I’;ve made the best use of it. That’;s why I have included some repetition in a conference presentation I will be giving in a few weeks. Do you want to give a successful talk? Do you want to emphasize points? Do you want people to remember you? Try repetition.

Copyright 2012 by Harriet Hodgson