Use repetition to make your writing pop

September 30, 2011

by Gail Kent

In standard business writing, repetition is wordy and detracts from clear communication. But when trying to persuade, such as in a speech, sales materials or advertising, using repetition with skill can make the difference between ordinary and memorable communication.

If you heard President Obama’s speech last month about The American Jobs Act, you will recall that he repeatedly challenged Congress to “pass this jobs bill right away.” Martin Luther King’s famous speech repeated, “I have a dream.”

repetition in writing and speechmaking John F. Kennedy was a master at using the technique of repetition in his speeches.

In President Kennedy’s inaugural speech, he addressed a list of entities, “to those old allies …,” “to those new states .l..,” “to those people in the huts and villages ….,” “to our sister republics …,”  “to that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations…” and “to those nations who would make themselves our adversary …” From there, he went on to repeat the phrase “both sides” five times when referring to America and the Communists, as The Cold War heated up.

Repetition is used not only in speeches, but also in poetry, music, creative non-fiction and fiction.  Wherever good storytelling is happening, you’re likely to find repetition employed as a tool – not just because it helps get the point across simply by hearing it repeated – it does. Repetition also helps with the cadence of speech, building a rhythm that, like poetry and music, mimics the heartbeat. It helps us to literally feel the words in our organs, tissues and bones.

When we feel the language we are hearing, it becomes part of our nervous system and speeds into our amygdala, part of the limbic system involved in the expression of emotion, bypassing the filter of our neo-cortex or rational portion of our brain. Like a steady drumbeat, we find ourselves easily at one with the message.

Whenever you need to get your audience on board with you – whether you’re speaking at a Rotary Club about a fundraiser or writing an article for your business’s newsletter – remember that repetition is in your toolbox. Play it again, Sam!

Photo: snre’s photostream

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