The Magic of Churchill’s Speeches

churchill
Sir Winston Churchill and his cigar. From http://www.express.co.uk/news/

While avoiding any political endorsement of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he did lead England to victory over Hitler’s Germany during World War II.

It was a grave time for England¹.  While I am certainly not a military historian, his famous speeches – with his distinctive speech and delivery which helped keep the British morale bolstered  – always intrigued me.  They were always stirring.  Why is that, I thought.

As an example, an excerpt of one of his more famous WWII speeches follows, broadcast to the free world at the end of the Battle of Britain¹.  He pays homage to the brave, young RAF pilots who flew countless of sorties in defense of their homeland against numerically superior Nazi warplanes.  The radio broadcast recording is set to start moments before his famous words of Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few:

But there IS something in his speeches that captivated the common English layman of war-ravaged England…and me.  He captured the populace with his radio broadcasts, from chimney sweeps to the most learned elite.  This in a time when Nazi Germany laid siege to the island nation, eventually bombing London itself (which was part of a key tactical blunder²).

Nevertheless, his tone is generally reserved during his speeches; yet, it is stirring.  It certainly is not animated as that of his psychotic foe, Hitler; it is said Churchill would merely sit behind the microphone on a desk while his faithful cigar burned at his side while broadcasting his speech.  (Hitler is one of the most animated, dynamic speakers I have watched even though he was inhuman.)

An archival image of Sir Winston Churchill broadcasting to the English population, 1942.

Then, a couple of years ago, I had stumbled across an article about his speeches.  I think I was researching in support of one of my son’s school projects when I came across it.  But it finally laid bare his secret to me for his successful speeches: it was the simplicity of his words.

His speeches not only excluded complex words, like perpendicularity or discombobulation for the most part, his ultimate secret was the number of syllables in a word.

It was rare he used any word with more than three syllables.  Yes, three syllables.  Amazing, isn’t it?

With his cigar going, Sir Winston Churchill visits Hitler’s destroyed Chancellery in July 1945. Archival photograph.

In an excerpt from his speech on June 4, 1940 below, you can see his perfect choice of words.  There are only three words with more than three syllables (bold italics).  Simplicity was his preference and key to his success:

“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

churchill troops
Sir Winston Churchill, with cigar going, visits British troops in France six days after D-Day. Archival photo.

________________________________________

Anyways, I just thought it was fascinating to finally learn one key to Sir Winston Churchill’s successful and historic speeches.  After he carried England through the war, I am sad he was voted out as Prime Minister in Britain’s first elections after Germany’s surrender.  He passed away in 1965 at the age of 90.

But one thing is for certain.  My Little Cake Boss Diva has instinctively mastered Churchill’s speech skills.

“Papa…  Why do you do it that way?  Do it this way!”

See?  All three syllables or less…  She must be captivating although she is a bit more animated than Churchill was.

Someone help me.

By the way, my text above has twelve words that have more than three syllables.  🙂

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For a collection of Sir Winston Churchill’s speeches, please click here.

NOTES:

1.  It is but my belief that England’s situation in 1939 while dire was not as gloomy as history presents it to be.  Nevertheless, it was a most dangerous time to be a Londoner.

2.  Perhaps in the future, I will write about this “blunder” by Hitler and most of all, Goering.  One unbelievable tactical error was ordering his Me-109’s – arguably a better fighter plane than the British Spitfire – to fly alongside his bombers in a defensive move.

28 thoughts on “The Magic of Churchill’s Speeches”

  1. You ARE a military historian, My Friend. Some day I hope and believe you’ll come to realize you’re a natural military historian and have been one for quite awhile.

  2. From what I’ve learned over the years, I feel he was an egotist who would not take responsibility for his past blunders. The speech credit should go to the one who wrote them [whoever that is] and he should be known from his record as the Man Without a Plan. [boy am I going to get blasted for this remark!!]

  3. At a professional development seminar I attended, the speaker talked about public speaking should be on an eighth grade level regardless of the sophistication of your audience. It puts it on a level playing field and you build report with your audience. You don’t come off as looking down on them. People can always raise their hand and ask more complex questions but if you are always complex, people may fear interacting because they don’t want to appear unintelligent.

  4. It was also his effective repetition….”we shall fight….we shall fight…we shall fight” that made his speeches so memorable as well as the three-syllable rule. I was a teenager during those years and remember those speeches. He and FDR had a way of reaching the people with phrases that reached our hearts.

  5. I did not know this was his specialty either – the simplicity – and goes to show that less can be more. When Rick Warren wrote his book that got so famous- well I remember in an interview he said his aim was to make each entry simple and short. He said that was the challenge and what took the most time. And I have learned in my own life how there is an art to keeping things simple – which does not mean watered down – not if done well – like churchill. I also did not know he lived to be 90 – and my favorite quote of his is “never, never, never give up”

      1. thx Koji – but maybe that was a good thing to NOT have penicillin – and I say that tongue in cheek because I know many antibiotics have saved lives – but what did man do for thousands of years before this discovery??? Ee used herbs, salts, and clays – and had better food and folks kept a strong body terrain that was not all jacked up on sugar, HFCS, and trans fat. I know there are many sides – but have been doing some research on intestinal flora and some of these modern and as I am sure you know – it is bad bad news to use antibiotics without also having probiotics AND prebiotics to follow up with – and some believe the increasing cancer rate is related to the mucosa lining, less resistance to mircobes because of the wiping out of all the “good fighter guys” when getting a routine dose of antibiotics – sorry to ramble
        and getting back to churchill – I also heard he had a biting sense of humor but always shot straight….

      2. Not a ramble… All valid points! Please think about it. When a Marine, soldier or sailor got wounded out in the Pacific during WWII, there was NO sanitation. Guys went without bathing for weeks with dysentery amongst other diseases… Yet, they survived if they stopped the bleeding or a major organ wasn’t hit. They WERE healthier then. Tough quandary: take meds with a bazillion side effects today and live a hundred years…but your mind (or finances) cannot keep up. I avoided any political discussion of Churchill as best I could but I do have my armchair opinions as you do! 🙂

      3. interesting sides to consider for sure – a

        nd I do have a quick question for you though – do you think that this quote from churchill is legit?

        Winston Churchill and the British politician Bessie Braddock exchanged words… Supposedly Braddock encountered an intoxicated Churchill and said “Sir, you are drunk.” He replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

        http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/08/17/sober-tomorrow/

  6. Please DO write about the blunder!!!! And I don’t know why, but as soon as you stated what Churchill’s secret was, it made complete sense to me. Resonated with me. Speak clearly. Simply.

    1. Thanks, Chatter Master, for always stopping by… As for the blunder, I might be really stepping out of bounds writing about WWII in Europe… but what what I’ve read, the Battle of Britain wasn’t as dire as the politicians made it out to be. A bad situation, yes, but not hopeless. Regardless, the men making these decisions failed to avoid war; instead, they planned on how to get into it without damaging their political futures.

      1. Well, I think writing about it from “a” perspective of what you have learned is okay. I like your style of writing Koji. You are always honest in stating things are your perspective and you are not an expert. You are open to comments and learning. I think it prompts good interaction.

  7. Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:

    I just watched “Churchill”. While a fine theatrical piece, it shows the hideous mindset of Hollywood, using free license in a sad attempt to re-write history. In it, it presents him adamantly opposed to D-Day when in fact, he used his power to support it. There was some truth in it, yes: Churchill did love his cigars, wished to sail with the invasion fleet into harm’s way but did not only on the orders of his King and his bouts with depression… but it reminded me of his wonderful speeches of which I wrote about a few years back.

  8. In 1945, Churchill was voted out, but it was not personal. People wanted a government that would look after them and so they all voted for the Labour Party. It meant free health care for all, slum clearance on a massive scale, the end of privately owned coal mines with a subsequent rise in safety standards, the government running railways, gas and electricity for the people and not for private profit. It was the only possible thing to do in a country in such a terrible state as England was in 1945.

  9. About a year ago I watched a film that covered the period of time in Churchill’s life following his stroke, and the series focused on his rocky relationship with his family. Like so many great leaders, his best wasn’t directed towards his family. I enjoyed reading your post and realize there is an awful lot about this man I don’t know and yet would find interesting. I enjoyed reading this!

    1. Debra! How are you? I am sorry I have been on a very long sabbactical, of sorts, from WordPress and missed many posts from writers such as yourself. 😢

      Thank you for your good comment; I believe I am aware of this movie, whether it be theatrical or documentary. Well, documentary is a false word as many producers put their political viewpoint into it.

      Churchill was in a way like Johnny Carson – he was able to communicate with his audience but failed with the few relatives closest to him.

      Thank you again!

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