One of the greatest leaders—and communicators—of the 20th century didn’t begin that way, writes contributor John Baldoni in Getting People on Board. Plagued with a stutter early in life, Winston Churchill determined to rise above his mother’s advice that he pick a career that didn’t involve public speaking. And he did. His rules for success in communicating with an audience were few but seminal:
- Get their attention. Communication is two-way. You can’t communicate with your listeners if they’re not listening. You must begin by grabbing their attention powerfully.
- Repeat regularly. Churchill was known for having a few principles and tirelessly repeating them. There’s nothing like artful repetition to make sure a message gets across.
- Bring language to life. Churchill well understood the importance of variety in tone, speed, language and emphasis to hold the audience’s attention. He paid particular attention to verbs in public speaking, knowing that verbs make language come alive.
- End powerfully. People best remember the last thing you said, so make it good. Save some of your best stuff for your close.
- Use simple gestures. A study of videos of Churchill’s speeches shows a man who stood squarely, usually with one hand grasping his lapel or resting firmly on his hip. The other arm occasionally comes forward to make a strong vertical gesture emphasizing a point he’s making. His arms never “windmill” around his body; the effect of that is to undercut the strength and dignity of the speaker.
- Pause. One of the longest pauses ever recorded in a political speech came in an address Churchill made to the Canadian Parliament in 1941. Churchill had been told that England would “have her neck wrung like a chicken.” His riposte to this threat? “Some chicken. [Pause]. Some neck.” Churchill confidently waited for the laughter and applause to end before uttering the next phrase. It’s a classic moment of oratory.