A rhetorical review

Tony Blair’s former speech-writer, Philip Collins, has written a very useful guide to speech-writing.

At the back of the book, he lists and handful of rhetorical devices, though he places little emphasis on learning them – on the contrary.

But I like the sheer writing exercises, and for the sheer pleasure of it I used the rhetorical figures he listed to write up my thoughts about his book.

Please don’t expect to be stunned by my rhetorical genius. I was doing this for my own pleasure. If you think you could do better (or even if you don’t) why not have a go yourself?

Philip Collins book: review in rhetoric

Rules and regulations of writing (and reading) rhetoric for relatively rapid returns. (Alliteration)

Starts and ends with structure, structured to encourage readers to experiment, experiments with a sample speech about business. (Anadiplosis)

Written to help. Written to persuade. Written to show off (a little). Written by a former speech-writer. Written well. (Anaphora)

Collins argues that we can’t all be Obama. The alternative is clear: we can all be Obama. (Antithesis)

Rubbish! We can’t. Collins is right. (Apodioxis)

And yet… might it really be possible, if we wore masks, and trained with a voice coach, and built a space like the Oval Office? (Aporia)

How can we be sure. If Trump could answer the question, I’d say: ‘Donald, help me out! Can we all be Obama?’ Or I might ask the man himself: ‘Barrack, what do you think?’ (Apostrophe)

Don’t write for somebody well versed in your topic but unintelligent – write for someone intelligent, who may not be particularly well versed in your topic. (Chiasmus)

Start steadily, with a one-line summary, then gradually build out a full page, then a proper outline, artfully putting together your facts in the shape of stories; and be sure to stretch, and breath deeply, before walking on to the stage, staring out and acknowledging your audience – then let rip. (Climax)

Collins argues that a solid collection of logos will ensure that you never give a bad speech. And he’s right. But most people want to aim a little higher than that. (Concession)

Anyway, that’s what I’m writing here, as the clock ticks to midnight and I hardly expect anyone will read this. (Decorum)

Nobody? Not one person? None. (Dialogismus)

Cliches are easy to use, fresh coinage takes ounces of brain juice. (Dialysis)

What is the point of rhetorical questions, one after another? Who benefits? Will people be tempted to give answers? Will they put them on a postcard? Will I need to hire someone to read them? Will I go crazy answering them all? (Epiplexis)

I used to write speeches for Tony Blair. (Ethos)

Oops. Should have written this one first. (Exordium)

Does Collins mention that he worked with Prime Minister Tony Blair? He does. (Hypophora)

I’m writing a book about speaking and presenting, and Collins book suddenly seemed more interesting to me than before (Kairos)

Collins isn’t a huge fan of making it up on the spur of the moment. (Litotes)

Collins wrote for Prime Minister Tony Blair, and knows what he’s talking about. You should follow his advice. (Logos)

Collins’s example speech blows up steadily, getting bigger and bigger, so that an onlooker might worry that it will imminently explode – but miraculously, it doesn’t. (Metaphor)

His pages fly past (Metonymy)

Oops, this part should have gone earlier, a slab of facts and figures describing the book, just after the exordium. (Narration)

Not to mention the other stuff. (Paralipsis)

Philip and the Giant Speech. (Paronomasia)

If you ever sweated over a piece of writing, you’ll know how I feel now – awful. (Pathos)

The former Prime Minister’s former speech writer fills 200+ pages. (Periphrasis)

Is it literature? Not the kind that wins prizes. Nor will it ever make the reader cry, or throw themselves into the arms of their lover. Collins has deceived us! (Philippic)

In the past, confronted with a book like this, I have scribbled all over it, and made notes in the back, with satisfying results (Phronesis)

Earlier, I agreed that sturdy logos will prevent an awful speech. Now I shall tell you why that is insufficient… (Prolepsis)

It’s not enough, because we want more: we want to be fresh, insightful and inspiring. (Tricolon)

Rhetorical exercise


“There are two great holes you may fall into: speaking your mind without a care for the audience, or caring so much about the audience that you lose your own mind.”


“Crowd-pleasers lose respect, egotist earn contempt.”


“Crowd-pleasing pleases less every minute.”

“Only the ignorant ignore the audience“.


“State what they know already, what they feel but you don’t, hollow yourself out of sincere opinions, disregard your invaluable insight and smother what experience has taught – all because you are afraid of the people before you.“


“A speaker who doesn’t respect his audience stinks like a rat in an upmarket restaurant.“


“Crowd-pleasers and brutes will never be remembered, but the speaker who is honest and respects her audience…“


“Flattery an audience won’t satisfy.“

“In front of you, the people who you must acknowledge listen.“


“Consider the exact nature of your audience, take the audience inside your heart  as you search for wisdom, share your wisdom with the individuals before you, and those individuals will rewards you with success.“

Periodic sentences

“The greatest speakers are those who, when a certain kind of insight is required, which may be a cause of discomfort to those to hear it, may indeed produce rage, or tears, and have consequences for the speaker of the greatest magnitude, including the loss of employment, removal from home and family, or even death, will on the occasion for expressing those thoughts before blurting them out consider the wishes, needs and fears of the audience before them, always remembering that every audience is itself only a group of individuals, each one similarly attached to his or her employment, home, family and life; and, taking all this into account, choose exactly what needs to be spoken, and no more, without shirking from what may scare them; because the audience, in the end will respect that.”


“And the sycophant speaks, and rubs her hands, and pleads, and grins, and says nothing.“


“You turn up at the last minute, drone through the same speech every time, don’t see the expectant smiles droop into tired frowns, refuse questions, leave before the other speakers, wonder why you are never asked back.“


“You’re here to be useful. Maybe to inform. Educate too. Perhaps inspire. You must do two things.  Speak truthfully. Respect the audience. Not any audience. This one.“


“Have courage, crowd-pleaser, have courage.“

“Indifference to the audience, sheer bloody-minded, selfish, and ultimately doomed indifference to the audience.”


“Will you fail, if you disregard entirely all interest in the needs, wishes and fears of the lovely people gathered in front of you?”


“How am I ever going to get back the time I have wasted on listening to this rubbish?“


“The speaker we invited has failed us – what was his greatest mistake?“


“You might say that you just spoke the truth. But you did so in a way that caused unnecessary offence.“


“What have you achieved today? Nothing.”


“How do I know that I’ve got the balance right between crowd-pleasing and it’s opposite?”


“Speak the truth, if you want to succeed; consider the truth from the perspective of your crowd, if you want to succeed; frame the truth in terms they understand, if you want to succeed; be brave to succeed; but unless you can do all of this, don’t do any of it, if you want to succeed.” 


“Truth, proof, and the pursuit of shared wisdom.“ “Empathy, emptiness, and a lack of courage.“ “Blurt, blunder, die.“


“Audience, audience, audience!”


“Pay no attention to the people before you – and a high price.” 

“Lose your courage – and your audience’s attention.”


“Crowd-pleasers, they no good.”

“Never speak indifferent.”

“Speak the truthful.”


“The way to speak is with a thought for those who come to hear you say the things they do not know; or no but do not understand; or understand but do not yet perceive as worth their care.“


“Why should anyone pay to hear you speak your mind – to yourself?”


“A great monologue is a dialogue.”


“Open your heart and your mind to the crowd and the crowd will open his mind at its heart.“ “The truth spoken with care with gratitude received.“

Number rule 

“Every good speaker has 27 experiences of bad speaking.”


“Hollow like an old steak.“ 

“Forthright divided by charm.”  

“Falling in hate.“


“The speaker has not entirely destroyed us with his honesty and insight.“ 

“It’s not every day we are treated to a speech that was intended for other people.“


“A sycophant is like a bottle of fine wine that you can’t get apart from its cork.“ 

“Watching a speaker who is given no thought to his audience feels like staring through a porthole on Noah’s Ark as the waters rise up the legs, guts and ears of the last standing elephant.“


“The audience, unwilling to be courted by such a needy suitor, kicked off her heels and ran for the stairs.“ 

“He walked to the podium, took out his tongue-shaped truncheon, and set about his listeners with gusto.“


“Head office, frightened of a response, failed to explain what we must do.“


“The night of 1000 frowns.“

Transferred epithets

“The speaker gulped, and pressed the desperate play button on his keyboard to begin. “ 

“The audience listened, under the bored chandeliers.” 

“With an eye on the truth, and another on her audience, she ranged about the joyful platform.”


“She ignored us, seemed blind and deaf; we felt like ghosts; we didn’t matter; we were nothing to her.”


“Ignorant of the issues when we arrived, we listened to an hour of platitude and sycophancy then returned home, ignorant.“


“Neediness, with its eternally rumbling tummy and outstretched hand, is the last thing an audience wishes to meet.“ 

“Indifference addresses the audience with dark glasses and its hood up, so that nothing can disturb its private thoughts.“


“In pursuit of success as a speaker, she spared no trouble weighing exactly the right portion of truth to administer, taking what could be poisonous and shaving it down to the exact number of milligrams to travel safely through the ear, into the bloodstream, then the brain – perfectly and harmlessly curing her patients.“


“You might as well into the room with a bucket of cold piss, and pour it over their heads, as speak to an audience without respect, and hope for a good hearing.“ 

“If sycophancy isn’t repellent, may we eat with our bottoms and poo from our mouths.“

Prolepsis (cliffhanger) 

I will come back to this.

Prolepsis (pronoun)

“He leaned forward with great interest, then sat back, gradually slipping to a horizontal position, then on finding he had fallen asleep, the man in the front row angrily concluded that the speaker couldn’t care less if he was there or not – and walked out.“

Prolepsis (a future state)

“The man who would soon be looking for a new job, though he didn’t know it when he walked on stage, walked on stage – and set in motion that inevitable outcome with his opening words.“

Prolepsis (pre-empting)

“The ‘honest’ speaker will ask why she should trim her opinions to suit any particular audience, and says that would be faking. I reply: have you never been baffled, when spoken to you in a language you don’t understand?“


“Lacking insight, missing the levers of thought, unplugged from emotion, disconnected, alone, marooned, despised, and not even conscious of how perilous your situation is, nor how much worse it becomes with each minute you disregard the audience.“

Scesis onomaton

“The short path to success: in discomfort, honesty; among friends, and outsiders view; with strangers, curious; short of time, brief.”


“This message, to this audience, means thinking carefully beforehand. This message, to this audience, can be the same as last time (but probably isn’t). This message, to this audience, call for trusting yourself and trusting the occasion. This message, to this audience, is something that nobody else, on any other occasion, can ever deliver as well as you.”