Three Tools Every Speaker Needs To Know How To Use: Satire, Irony, and Sarcasm

In order to connect with your audience, you need to have the tools to do it
In order to connect with your audience, you need to have the tools to do it
Image Credit: FolsomNatural

As a speaker, what tools do you have to make your next speech unforgettable? I think that we can all agree that the answer to this question is “not much!” However, just like other professionals who show up to do their work with the tools of their trade, it turns out that we do have a few things that we can bring along. What we can do during our next speech is to express ourselves with words using literary devices. These “tricks of the trade” include understatement, alliteration, symbolism, foreshadowing, and hyperbole. However, where things get really interesting is when we focus on just three of these tools: satire, irony and sarcasm.

Satire: What You Use When You Want To Sting Someone

The reason that we give a speech is generally because we want to bring about change in some way. If this is your goal, then consider using satire to ridicule the subject of your opposition. Opposition in this case is what you want changed. It turns out that we are all highly aware of the power of satire. Back in high school when we were required to read Mark Twain’s novel “Huckleberry Finn” we were exposed to his use of satire in order to skewer racism and hypocrisy in American society. As speakers, we should also be aware that Mark Twain also used the device in his prolific public speaking career. The reason that speakers use satire is to “expose human folly.” We need to understand that it can be powerfully effective as a speaking tool. The power of satire comes from the fact that satire has a power of fascination that no other written thing possesses.

Be Careful Using Irony Because It May Be Not Quite What It Seems

What’s interesting about irony is that many speakers struggle to fully define it. A lot of us like to say that we may not be able to define it, but we are pretty sure that we know it when we see it. It is debatable, however, that many speakers do know irony when we see it. It turns out that something ironic is more than simply something that is odd, unfortunate or coincidental. What we need to realize is that for something to truly be ironic, a scenario cannot play out as originally intended. Good examples of irony are what we need to understand before we can start to use irony in our next speech. Irony requires that a disparity must exist between what is thought about a situation and the reality of it. Alternatively, irony can exist if what is intended by an action is different from the actual outcome of it. Finally, it is ironic if what is said is different from what is meant.

Only Use Sarcasm If You Want To Be Harsh

If you ask around, you’ll find most speakers say that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit … but also the funniest”. Although speakers use satire and irony to reproach or scorn, sarcasm is considered more harsh and crude, particularly if it is directed at an individual. If you take a look at the Greek roots of the word, you would discover that it translate as “to bite the lips in rage.” While speakers say that sarcasm is a potent tool for humor, others warn speakers to be wary, because audience members might take the joking comments at face value. At the very least, you need to be extremely judicious when using sarcasm in a speech.

What All Of This Means For You

Speakers who take the stage do so with few tools at their disposal. We have only our words to use to connect with our audience. The good news is that if we understand how those words can be used, we may find ourselves in a powerful position. It turns out that we have satire, irony and sarcasm at our disposal. However, before we use these speaking tools, we need to make sure that we fully understand them.

Satire is how we bring change about. Satire can be used to ridicule your opposition. Irony needs to be understood. Irony is more than something being odd or unfortunate. Finally, sarcasm is a powerful tool that we need to use carefully. We can use it to show scorn, or reproach. We need to be careful when we use sarcasm because our audience may take what we are saying at face value.

Use of satire, irony and sarcasm adds creativity and flair to your speeches, but it also demands more from your audience: The listeners must be able to grasp your intended, deeper meanings and your sense of humor. Thus, it is doubly important to practice your speech in front of others before you give it until the meaning and humor are clear. The extra effort will be worth it. Explore the use these literary devices in your presentations and your audience will thank you for it.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: When do you think that it would be safe use satire in a speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So just exactly what is a title? It is how we choose to introduce our speech to the world. This is how we go about luring an audience into wanting to hear what we have to say. However, despite just how important a part of your speech you title is, all too often speakers overlook this critical part of speech writing. What we really should be doing is spending time coming up with title ideas that are both thoughtful and creative. What we really need are techniques that we can use to create a great title for our next speech.