“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory.”
“And that’s the way it is.”
Many famous people are buried beneath Westminster Abbey. But, at Westminster Abbey, there is one plaque, prominenty on display, honoring someone who is not buried there: Winston Churchill. (Read about it here). Here’s what is on that plaque:
IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE WISHES OF
THE QUEEN AND PARLIAMENT T
HE DEAN & CHAPTER PLACED THIS STONE
ON THE TWENTY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
15 SEPTEMBER 1965
He deserves such recognition. I’m not sure the country would have survived without him. Especially without his words.
Last Saturday, NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday aired a segment on Winston Churchill: Winston Churchill’s Way With Words by Tom Vitale.
It was a wonderful segment, with a reminder that Churchill may have saved England with the sheer brilliance (actually, “simple” brilliance) and power of his words, his speeches.
Here are some excerpts of the segment:
Winston Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he’d spend an hour working on a single minute of a speech.
Winston Churchill is best remembered as the British prime minister whose speeches rallied a nation under a relentless Nazi onslaught in World War II. But few people know that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature — in part for his mastery of speechmaking.
Now, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, Churchill: The Power of Words, holds a megaphone to Churchill’s extraordinary oratory.
In another landmark speech, Churchill proclaimed: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
Churchill wasn’t born a master orator — he overcame a childhood lisp by practicing enunciation.
On June 18, 1940, immediately after the fall of France, Churchill rallied the British people once more. With his characteristic Shakespearean gusto, he declared, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ “
On April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy summed up Churchill’s speechwriting achievements, saying, “In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone — and most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life — he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
He spent an hour on a minute of speech. He used exactly the right word(s), the best word – the “simple” word. “In a word, victory.” It can’t be any clearer than that.
And he “practiced” enunciation to overcome a childhood lisp. He worked hard to be easily understandable.
That point reminds me of a specific detail about Walter Cronkite’s brilliance. He wanted to be easily understood, and so he developed the skill of speaking slowly enough to be easily understood. This is from the Wikipedia page about Cronkite (but I’ve read it elsewhere also):
Walter Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.
So, here are your three presentation skills tips for the day:
#1 – Learn to say what you have to say with the fewest number of clear and easy-to-grasp words. Work! on the right word choice. (Churchill took an hour to write one minute’s worth of text).
#2 – Practice your enunciation. The only test is this: are you easily understood?
#3 – Slow down in your speaking. Say your words slowly enough to be easily understood. Again, the only test is this: are you easily understood?
And, a reminder that goes without saying – getting good at genuinely effective communication is not all that easy. It takes time, and work, and long-term focus, and…
I intentionally keep politics out of my posts on this blog as much as possible. It is becoming difficult – politics permeates every facet of life these days. But this one was too important to ignore. It comes from Paul Krugman’s New York Times column earler this week, Patients Are Not Consumers. Here’s the key excerpt:
But something else struck me as I looked at Republican arguments against the board, which hinge on the notion that what we really need to do, as the House budget proposal put it, is to “make government health care programs more responsive to consumer choice.”
Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.
What has gone wrong with us?
First, the obvious: I do not want to think of myself as a “consumer” of health care, I want to think of myself as a “patient” going to see my “doctor.” And, yes, I do have “my doctor,” not my “health care provider.”
We have known for a very long time that the labels, the names, we use, shape so much more than just our vocabulary. The words we use shape our understanding in every part of life, even create reality. And I think Frank Luntz is onto something with his idea that there are words that work – but, there are also words that don’t work. And we need to reject those words, jettison them from our vocabulary, and stand strong against them as they creep in all around us — which I try to do in my own conversations and presentations.
“Consumer” should never replace “patient” when it comes to me and my “doctor.” This is just one example of a word we should jettison. There are a few other words that don’t work for me: like “faith community,” instead of “church, synagogue/temple, mosque.” I do not attend my “faith community,” I go to “church.” In fact, I go to church at the First Methodist Church, not the First Methodist Faith Community.
Words that work, whether fiction or reality, not only explain but also motivate. They cause you to think as well as act. They trigger emotion as well as understanding.
In the book, he quotes Winston Churchill:
“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”
I agree with this. And “doctor” is shorter and better than “health care provider,” and “church” is better than “faith community.”
Famed rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke put it this way:
“… language does our thinking for us. Language choices not only reflect individual disposition but influence the course of policy as well… Because the terms we use to describe the world determine the ways we see it, those who control the language control the argument, and those who control the argument are more likely to successfully translate belief into policy.” (quoted by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman).
I suspect you’ve got your own list of words that don’t work. And I suspect, if we put our minds to it, we could come up with quite a few words that don’t work; words that simply are not working for us.
And let’s start here — let’s remind those making decisions in Washington that we are not “consumers” of “health care providers,” we are “patients” going to see our “doctors.”
Come then: let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil — each to our part, each to our station… There is not a week, nor a day, nor an hour to lose.
Winston Churchill, speech, Free Trade Hall, Manchester. January 27, 1940.
As I have often mentioned on this blog, I live in multiple worlds. One of those worlds is this: I speak twice a month, at two different locations, for the Urban Engagement Book Club hosted by CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries). I present the same types of presentations that I present at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but I choose books dealing with issues of social justice and poverty.
Last week, I presented my synopsis of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World by Mae Elise Cannon (foreword by John Perkins) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books – An imprint of InterVarsity Press. 2009). Here are a couple of key quotes:
Social justice is complicated. People have strong ideas about it! Say “social justice” to one person, and he or she will think you are a saint following in the footsteps of Mother Theresa. But someone else may throw a fit and declare that you are a liberal activist who has abandoned the true fundamentals of Scripture.
People can spend eternity stuck in the process of becoming aware. (emphasis added). It is tempting to be theoretically involved, seeking to know more, philosophizing and waiting to figure things out before beginning down the road of action and advocacy. We must be willing to pursue awareness without being immobilized by the process.
It’s part of that last quote that gets to me: “People can spend eternity stuck in the process of becoming aware.” Yes, we can. I know that I can. And there is so much action to take – now. And this is true in every setting; in the nonprofit world, in the business world, in the education world. There is so much to be done, and it is needed now.
This reminded me of a great speech from for the movie The Great Debaters. The movie is based on the true story of the Wiley College Debate Team from the 1930s. From the debate between Wiley College and Oklahoma City College, here is a terrific paragraph from the young woman debater, Samantha Booke (manuscript from the AmericanRhetoric.com site):
As long as schools are segregated, negroes will receive an education that is both separate and unequal. By Oklahoma’s own reckoning, the state is currently spending five times more for the education of a white child than it is spending to educate a colored child. That means better text books for that [white] child than for that [negro] child. Oh, I say that’s a shame. But my opponent says today is not the day for whites and coloreds to go to the same college, to share the same campus, to walk in the same classroom. Well, would you kindly tell me when is that day going to come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years? Never?! No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality, is always — is always — right now!
When is the time to get to work, to bring about social justice, to make the changes needed at work, to make the changes needed in your own life? The answer is always the same – the time is (always!) now. And that is the message of all good books. There is work to be done. Let us to the task. There is not an hour to lose.