Decades ago, my community decided to ban teaching contraception in grade nine sex ed classes.
My sex ed teacher was a pretty crafty guy, though. He used a clever rhetorical device called paralipsis to teach us the necessary material.
Paralipsis allows you to bring attention to something by pretending to ignore or omit it. In the case of my sex ed teacher, he started his class by saying,
“You probably heard this, but a new law says I’m no longer allowed to teach contraception. For example, I can no longer tell you about condoms, the pill, diaphragms, vasectomies, and….”
And then, he would tell us how he couldn’t explain what each was, how they were used, or their effectiveness rates. Naturally, we eagerly took notes on everything he wasn’t saying!
Paralipsis can be an extraordinarily effective technique for gaining and keeping the audience’s attention! Here’s how it works:
1️⃣ Creating intrigue and curiosity: Paralipsis piques interest and captivates your audience by hinting at something without directly stating it. It creates an air of mystery and intrigue, making them lean in and actively listen to uncover the implied message.
2️⃣ Addressing sensitive topics: Paralipsis can be valuable when broaching sensitive or controversial subjects. You can acknowledge the issue indirectly, acknowledging its existence and even dare to dive deeper into it. This approach allows you to navigate tricky waters while still recognizing the importance of the subject matter.
3️⃣ Sparking audience engagement: Using paralipsis strategically invites your audience to actively participate in deciphering the hidden message. Your audience is encouraged to fill in the gaps. This fosters engagement and creates a more interactive presentation experience.
Paralipsis is a delicate art. Use it sparingly and purposefully to amplify your message. It’s a powerful way to say more by saying less, leaving a lasting impression on your audience.
Heck, I remember my teacher’s message, and it’s been DECADES.
Laura Bergells teaches public speaking and business communication classes and workshops. Hire Laura.
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