I’m currently reading Andrew Roberts’ Churchill: Walking with Destiny. There was a great documentary years ago with the same title but this is different. Roberts’ 1000-page book swims quickly. Learning more about Churchill’s writing style and the way he constructed words, I’m convinced he is one of history’s greatest communicators. He is up there with Lincoln, Jefferson, and King Jr. when it comes to words.
In Walking with Destiny, Roberts does a good job of expressing Churchill’s love of words.
He takes half a page to quote Winston:
“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wield a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world. Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices, whoever can command this power is still formidable…A meeting of grave citizens, protected by all the cynicism of these prosaic days, is unable to resist its influence. From unresponsive silence they advance to grudging approval and thence to complete agreement with the speaker. The cheers become louder and more frequent; the enthusiasm momentarily increases; until they are convulsed by emotions they are unable to control and shaken by passions of which they have resigned the directions…it appears there are certain features common to all the finest speeches in the English language…Rhetorical power is neither wholly bestowed nor wholly acquired, but cultivated. The peculiar temperament and talents of the orator must be his by nature, their development is encouraged by practice. The orator is real. The rhetoric is partly artificial…The orator is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude…Before he can their tears his own must flow. To convince them he must himself believe. He may be often inconsistent. He is never consciously insincere.”
Churchill is an expert orator. For inspiration, watch his 5 minutes video of him speaking to Congress.
Here are his five tips on speaking:
- First is the ‘exact appreciation of words’ which includes ‘the continual employment of the best possible word.’ His style and advice was using ‘short, homely words of common usage.’ These words needed to be understandable, but the sentences didn’t need to be short. Ideally they would have an ‘internal rhythm.’
- Second is the ‘influence of sound on the human brain.’ Churchill believed the most impactful when ‘ the sentences of the orator when he appeals to his art become long, rolling and sonorous.’ Great orators are able to express their words in blank verse — opposed to regular prose. Shakespeare was his life-long influence when emulating blank verse.
- Third is ‘the steady accumulation of argument.’ In Churchill’s words ‘a series of facts is brought forward all pointing in a common direction. The crowd anticipate the conclusion and the last words fall amid a thunder of assent.’
- Fourth is the use of analogy. Analogies are a lost art these days. Churchill puts it well, obviously: ‘they translate an establish truth into simple language’.
- Fifth and final: ‘the emotions of the speaker and listeners are alike aroused and some expression must be found that will represent all they are feeling.
Just like any other listicle — dare I put Churchill in a listicle — the real work and art comes with practice, study, and repetition around what words to use, the cadence you write, the logic and research around your facts, the analogies you use, and the emotion you convey.
I’m inspired by his zeal for words even more and I still have many more pages left in the book!