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How a dash of poetry can make your message more memorable

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Alliteration, Assonance and Rhyme are rhetorical figures of speech which all serve the same basic purpose, i.e. to give a fluidity and rhythm and memorability to the words spoken. Think how much easier it is to remember poetry or song lyrics than 'normal' sentences, and how you can still remember nursery rhymes and songs from your childhood.

So if you have something short and snappy you want the audience to remember, these are great techniques to use.

For example, if I asked you to tell me any of the words used in the OJ Simpson trial, you'd probably come up with, "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit!" There were literally hundreds of thousands of words used by both sides, yet all you probably remember is an 8 word sentence. Why? Because it's punchy. And because it rhymes.

Let's say you were giving a presentation about the need to have the confidence to break rules occasionally in order to deliver better, faster customer service. Which of the two alternative ways of saying it is the most memorable?

  • "We need to deliver faster service in line with customer expectations."
  • "It's about having the nerve to serve the speed they need.'

If I was looking for a catchy soundbite to get over the very point of this article, that some words and phrases are more memorable than others, I could say:

  • "If you amaze with a phrase, it remains in their brains"
  • "Choose carefully, so once they've heard the word, it's consigned to their mind"

1. Alliteration

This repeats the same sound or letter beginning several successive or proximate words, as did in the title to this article - "... make your message more memorable". President Kennedy was a master at it, and it's one of the reasons his voice is pleasant to listen to (see his Inaugural Address and his 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech for a number of examples).

  • "We're going to need a bigger boat" - Roy Scheider (from the movie Jaws)
  • "Let us go forth to lead the land we love" - JFK
  • "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty” – JFK
  • "My style is public negotiations for parity, rather than private negotiations for position" - Jesse Jackson
  • "Veni, vidi, vinci " - Julius Caesar ("I came, I saw, I conquered")
  • "We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will " -Winston Churchill
  • "Never has so much been owed by so many to so few" - Winston Churchill
  • "Step forward, Tin Man. You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk...And you, Scarecrow, have the effrontery to ask for a brain! You billowing bale of bovine fodder !" - the Wizard of Oz
  • "(What is needed is) ... not heroics, but healing ... not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality” – Warren Harding
  • "Our party ...has always been at its best when we’ve led not by polls, but by principle; not by calculation, but by conviction" - President Obama
  • “It was a creed written into the founding documents that defined the destiny of a nation" - President Obama
  • "An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down” - King Aragorn (from the movie ‘The Return of the King')
  • "You'll never put a better bit of butter on your knife" - advertising slogan, Country Life butter
  • "Make mine Miller" - advertising slogan, Miller beer

2. Rhyme

So obvious that it doesn't need any further explanation, but here's a couple of non-poetry examples:

  • “Red, yellow, brown, black, and white, we're all precious in God's sight" - Jesse Jackson
  • "Today's students can put dope in their veins or hope in their brains. If they can conceive it and believe it, they can achieve it" - Jesse Jackson
  • "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit" - defending counsel, OJ Simpson trial
  • "I feel the need, the need for speed" - Tom Cruise (from the movie 'Top Gun)
  • "There's much less bovver with a hover" - UK lawnmower TV ad
  • "Grace . . . space . . . pace." - advertising slogan, Jaguar cars

3. Assonance

Where Alliteration takes place at the beginning of words and Rhyme takes place at the end, Assonance takes the middle ground. Although it's similar to rhyme (it's sometimes called 'vowel rhyme') it's different in 2 important respects. Firstly, rhyme uses syllables in words that are near to each other with the same vowel sound and consonant, e.g. bake and cake, while Assonance uses similar sounding vowel sounds between different consonants, so the words don't actually rhyme, but sound alike, e.g.:

  • bake and late
  • purple curtain
  • rumbling thunder
  • high dive
  • free and easy
  • tilting at windmills
  • black cat

It can also be used with the same consonants but diffferent vowels:

  • tit for tat
  • mystery and mastery

Secondly, whereas rhyme usually occurs at the end of words and successive phrases or sentences, Assonance is used within the words and sentences, e.g. in these rap songs, where the relevant syllables are stressed vocally by the singer:

  • "Windows tinted on my ride when I drive in it, so when I rob a bank run out and just dive in it, so I'll be disguised in it. And if anybody identifies the guy in it, I hide for five minutes. Come back, shoot the eye witness. Fire at the private eye hired to pry in my business" - Eminem
  • "He's evil, and I'm bad like Steve Seagal. Above the law 'cause I don't agree with police either.. (Sh*t me neither) we ain't eager to be legal. So please, leave, me, with the keys to your jeep vehicle. I breathe ether in three lethal amounts, while I stab myself in the knee with a diseased needle" - Eminem
  • “I bomb atomically—Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses can’t define how I be droppin’ these mockeries" - Inspectah Deck
  • "I've never seen so many Dominican women with cinnamon tans" - Will Smith

In speeches:

  • "Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our Nation — not because of the height of our skyscrapers…” - President Obama
  • "We have the math, they have the myth - Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign manager.
  • "They must know it is not their aptitude but their attitude that will determine their altitude" - Jesse Jackson.
  • "The odious apparatus of Nazi rule" - Winston Churchill
  • "Four score and seven years ago" - Abraham Lincoln

In advertisements:

  • "It beats . . . as it sweeps . . . as it cleans!" - 1960s advertising slogan for Hoover vacuum cleaners
  • "Finger lickin' good" - KFC slogan
  • "Think different" - Apple
  • "Lipsmackin' thirstquenchin' acetastin' motivatin' goodbuzzin' cooltalkin' highwalkin' fastlivin' evergivin' coolfizzin' Pepsi" - Pepsi

 

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