There is a certain tactic in public speaking, where the speaker will repeat a short phrase, and change just one or two words. Each time, the energy of each phrase builds on another. An example of this may be:

If you want to get where you're happy in life, change yourself. If you want to be where those close to you are happy, change your friends. If you want to be where everyone is happy, change the world.

There is definitely a pattern to good speakers using this (typically toward the end of speeches), but I do not know the right title or keyword so that I can research this and learn it for myself as a tool in public speaking.

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    I'm not saying this is off topic because there's room for overlap and it does feel like it could fit here to me. However, with some tuning for English Language & Usage, this would fit perfectly under their single-word-requests tag. Look at the tag description for instructions for details on how you'd change it for that SE.
    – Ed Grimm
    Feb 22 '20 at 6:51

This is indeed a known rhetorical technique and it is called conduplicatio. Basically any repetition, whether at the start of sentences or the end of them, will be conduplicatio.

I discovered this word by looking for articles on speeches by Martin Luther King, who used this very well. This one lists a number of the techniques he was so good at. Once you have the word, you can find many more good examples. These go back centuries.

A word of warning: in the hands of a beginner, this can sound like you don't have a large vocabulary and are just using the same words all the time, or like you are a little "stuck" and keep using the same fragment repeatedly. Make sure your repetitions are purposeful and powerful, not just "This might go better if I start the next three sentences with the same phrase." As you mention, it tends to show up towards the end of a speech, when you have established your skills, and is used to really hammer home a point you've already well supported throughout the talk.


In addition to conduplicatio as Kate's answer says, another relevant rhetorical technique is parallelism.

It can be a subtle difference to spot, and these techniques are by no means exclusive. Conduplicatio is about repeating a word or phrase - like how your example repeats the words "happy" and "change".

(As a side note, that seems to be the most general term, where the word may occur in any position - there are more specific terms depending on where in the clause the word/phrase appears. Anaphora is at the beginning, mesodiplosis in the middle, epistrophe at the end, and symploce for beginning and end.)

Parallelism is about repeating the structure - which as you noticed looks like "the speaker will repeat a short phrase, and change just one or two words". It's a very old technique, found anywhere from poetry to proverbs to professional speaking. In a speech, the speaker can build up energy with each repetition, culminating in that final point and driving it home.

For your example, the sentences all follow a similar structure:

If you want to be where _____, change _____.

Take care with grammar when using parallelism - the elements that you swap out need to agree grammatically (all adjectives, all infinitives, all adverbial clauses, etc.)

This site has some additional examples of parallelism (as well as other rhetorical devices) which I found helpful to understand how it's used.

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