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.)
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?
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.”
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. 🙂
For a collection of Sir Winston Churchill’s speeches, please click here.
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.