I’m a big Churchill fan. He drank heavily. Took naps. Defeated the Nazis. Famously traded jabs with Lady Nancy Astor and others. There is a Winston Churchill exhibit currently at the Morgan Library in New York City. I am making a trip this summer to NYC to have a look.
And he wrote his own speeches. A bunch of them.
Most are classics. For example, before he was prime minister, Churchill offered a speech to the House of Commons at the outbreak of the second World War. He offers the perspective of a man that can see history and give voice to our place within it.
“…there is a generation of Britons here now ready to prove itself not unworthy of the days of yore and not unworthy of those great men, the fathers of our land, who laid the foundations of our laws and shaped the greatness of our country.’
Many of us (me for sure) are not capable of writing with such passion and insight.
But there are a couple of techniques that he used that we can imitate.
Write drafts. Churchill took his speeches seriously. He worked hard on them. Perhaps one reason he found just the right words is he experimented with words until he was satisfied. He is quoted as saying he spent an hour on every minute of speech.
Plan and rehearse. We have evidence that his final draft was structured in a way to suggest pauses and when to emphasize ideas. It is believed he spent a great deal of time thinking about how his words should be delivered. Below is an example.
Stop changing: Once a speech was complete, it was complete. Churchill read his speeches word-for-word. This level of completeness and preparedness contrasts with many of the speeches we see that continue to change until the very last moment. (no exaggeration: we watched a speech writer changing slides as a technology CEO walked on-stage with many thousands in attendance).
With luck, you will not be asked to comment on or lead the defense of the entire free world. But your talks matter. And you can leverage some of the genius of Winston Churchill to make your speeches more powerful.