Why fear rhetorical devices?

People giving business presentations tend to avoid anything out of the ordinary in order to conform to the way everyone...

People giving business presentations tend to avoid anything out of the ordinary in order to conform to the way everyone else does it. So you get a self-perpetuating tradition of dry, dull presentations in dead language. Hence the phrase, ‘Death by PowerPoint’.

Meanwhile, look at any great politician. What are they doing with the language? Exploiting it to persuade you. And how do they do that? By using tried and tested – and we’re talking 2,500 years here – rhetorical devices, such as repetition, questions, word pictures, stories and metaphors. Why shouldn’t you?
But then as one of my trainees recently told me:
Banker: That’s fine for a big speech, but in banking that would be way over the top.
Me: What, using metaphors?
Banker: Yes. They won’t go for all that blue sky thinking stuff.
Me: ‘Blue sky thinking’ is now a cliché.
Banker: Right.
Me: You’re quite right not to touch it. Because a cliché is simply a brilliant turn of phrase – usually a metaphor – that’s become so popular everyone starts using it. Then, before you know it, it’s untouchable
Banker: But what I’m saying is, banking’s a flat subject. We just don’t buy all that ornamentation.
Me: You’ve just used one. And what about ‘The credit bubble has burst’?
Banker: That’s different.
Me: Still a metaphor. It’s a valuable shorthand because you can cut straight through to your meaning in fewer words. How would you express ‘The credit bubble has burst’ in conventional language? Go on.
Banker: The era when people could get away with a high level of debt has come to a sudden and painful end.
Me: See. It saves words.
Banker: I’m saying you can’t overdo it, though. They want facts, not metaphors stuffed down their throats.
Me: You’ve just used another one.

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