Some people are saying that President Donald Trump’s speech in Poland last week was actually quite good. Even Donald Trump himself sent out a photo (of himself) with an excerpt from the speech reading: “I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph”. It is quite the rhetorical bubble. It sounds a lot more dramatic than simply saying ‘the West will never be broken’. But why?
Well, this is an ancient Greek rhetorical trope called kairos which is the use of time for effect. Kairos has several levels, and this is one of the simpler uses. By referring to the time in which you are saying something it draws the audience’s attention to what you are about to say as well as heightening their interest. Kairos can also refer to the time in which you say something in a speech or indeed the time in which the speech is said.
This is a trick that British politicians often deploy in the Chamber. They will say something along the lines of ‘I want you, here, today, to look at me across this dispatch box and say….’ Simply by referring to the time, the place and the setting the speaker adds significance and gravitas to what they are saying.
Kairos is also effective when used in the middle of a speech, to remind an audience where they are (and that they should be listening)! Members of the audience will inevitably lose interest as a speech progresses and some will tune out entirely. By saying something such as ‘and that is why I am here talking to you today’ members of the audience will start tuning back into your speech, because you are signposting to them that you are about to say something important.
Finally, no doubt everyone would have spotted the textbook ascending tricolon at the end of the excerpt “Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph”. It is simple, possibly overdone, but still effective in inspiring passion from a sympathetic audience.
So ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare, today, for the world to hear, that this blogpost is published!