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The power of parallel structure in #political persuasion #Obama example


When you need to persuade – you can be more successful by delivering your key message in repeated parallel structure.



As Deputy News Director for a commercial television network in Australia (and a former political speechwriter)  I need to read and watch and listen to a lot of news. Today I was impressed by hearing Obama’s address where he encouraged his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton was his rival  when they competed for Democratic nomination the last time he ran for President. Many of Obama’s fans and supporters don’t like Hillary.

However Obama made it clear of what was at stake if his supporters did NOT support Hillary at the ballot.

Aware of the fact that his supporters don’t necessarily support Hillary, he makes it not about Hillary but about other things his supporters  DO support and value and believe in.

He said:

My name may not be on the ballot, but our

progress is on the ballot.

Tolerance is on the ballot.

Democracy is on the ballot. 


You can see how the last three lines are in parallel structure…repeating ‘on the ballot’ and changing the first word,


Parallel structure works because it sounds strong to the ear and it’s easy for the audience to remember.


It creates the expectation of a pattern – and the satisfaction when the pattern is delivered.

Strong structure helps strong delivery – and when good communicators deliver in parallel structure they often build with each line  – and pause after the last line to let the message  sink in (a classic rhetoric technique – a tricolon in parallel structure).


I was so impressed with the ‘grab’ I heard on radio, I later searched for the whole speech. The grab used in new was the section above – but there were more lines – delivered in strong structure.


“My name may not be on the ballot, but our

progress is on the ballot.

Tolerance is on the ballot.

Democracy is on the ballot. 

Justice is on the ballot.

Good schools are on the ballot.

Ending mass incarceration – that’s on the ballot right now.”


Obama often uses a technique where he used parallel structure and keeps adding points so the listener gets the feeling there’s a lot on the ballot. And the repetition of ON THE BALLOT certainly gets the message across that supporters must vote..on the ballot.

Obama got personal too  –  making voting for Hillary ABOUT HIM repeating his line about getting a good send off.

“if you want to give Michelle and me a good send-off…don’t just watch us walk into the sunset. Get people registered to vote.” and

“You want to give me a good send-off? Go vote.”


It’ll be interesting to see how many supporters DO want to give him a good sending by …voting on the ballot. He certainly did his best –  delivering his message with repetition and parallel structure.










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This entry was posted on September 19, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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