Winston Churchill is probably the greatest hero of the 20th century. He motivated an entire nation to fight a battle that seemed impossible to win. The situation seemed hopeless, but through the use of one single skill, Churchill inspired an entire nation to continue the fight, until they eventually won the war in 1945.
Those of you who know about Winston Churchill, and what he has done for the Western world in the Second World War, should know what this skill was.
Churchill was a master at oratory, in other words, he was gifted at public speaking. When giving speeches, he could influence, persuade, and inspire people, simply by opening his mouth. And with it, he inspired an entire nation to continue to fight, even when the situation looked absolutely hopeless. A quote that demonstrates the enormous power that Churchill wielded through his oratory is something journalist Edward R. Murrow said after one of Churchill's speeches in 1944: "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."
Most people believe that being a great public speaker is something that has to be gifted to you. You either have it or you don't. But one of the greatest public speakers in history has to say something about that:
"... rhetorical power is neither wholly bestowed nor wholly acquired, but cultivated. The peculiar temperament and talents of the orator must be his by nature. Their development is encouraged by practice."
So, what Churchill says is that a great ability to speak is not something you need to be born with, but something you can acquire through a lot of practice and effort. That's the way he acquired it too.
But there is a shortcut that doesn't require the same trial and error and effort you have to put into your speeches to make them persuasive and inspiring.
The secret is learning the following principles of oratory. It doesn't matter if you are an amateur or an expert, these principles will always work. They are also universally applicable and can be applied to public speaking, but also writing books, blogs, emails, and even simply everyday conversations.
The principles can be found in an unpublished essay Churchill wrote in November of 1899 called 'The Scaffolding of Rhetoric'. In it, he described the five principles of oratory. As you will notice when you look at his speeches in the Second World War, he has never failed to employ all of these principles. By using all of these principles, you too can write the same convincing and inspiring language as Winston Churchill.
But, great oratory, as Churchill says, is extremely powerful. That's why you should only use it for good. We have seen the disastrous effects it can have when this power falls into the hands of bad people. Take for example Adolf Hitler, also a master of public speaking who applied all of these principles perfectly, and we all know how much destruction and human suffering he created with it.
So if you decide to become a master at the principles of oratory, then I hope you'll use them the same way Churchill did, for good.
Below are his five principles of oratory:
"Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king." ~ Winston Churchill
1 Correctness of diction
According to Churchill, the most important element of rhetoric is the use of the best possible word at every time. The words you use should convey your points in the most clear and understandable way possible. They should accurately describe what you mean so that there is no doubt about what you are trying to say. This is also so that the listener doesn't have to think so hard about what you're saying. When he has to figure out what you mean, instead of immediately understanding what you're trying to convey, you've lost them entirely, and it will be difficult to get them back into your argument.
Another point is that you should use the most understandable language possible. It is of no benefit to use extremely complicated words that no one has ever heard of trying to sound like an intellectual. All this will do is lose the listeners, because if they don't understand you immediately, and have to think about what you're trying to say, they won't follow your argument and won't receive the message.
This also applies to the preferred use of short words. Longer words are often more complicated, require more thinking on the part of your listener, and are often completely unnecessary. By using shorter words, the audience can easily understand what you're saying and doesn't have to pause in their minds for each word, trying to figure out what they're supposed to mean.
Churchill also uses the argument that 'the shorter words of a language are usually more ancient. their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal with greater force to simple understandings than words recently introduced from the Latin and the Greek.'
These shorter words are what all of the longer words stem from, so it is not necessary to use longer words, and often even counterproductive when you could simply use a couple of short words to convey the same meaning but be way more comprehensible. If you ever hesitate to use long or short words, always opt for the shorter ones.
The secret of great oratory is that it provokes an emotional reaction inside the listener. He/she should feel what you are saying, and this can not be achieved by argument alone. One of the tricks Churchill uses to make his listeners feel the emotion he wants them to feel is by using the power of rhythm. Humans are powerless to the use of rhythm, music, for example, can put people in a truly trans-like state.
But rhythm is not something that solely applies to music, it can, and should, also be used in speaking. The way Churchill explains it is that your speaking should have a certain cadence to it, it should almost be like a sort of rhyme or poem that you're reading out loud. When your audience gets caught up in your rhythm, they lose their ability to think and start using their emotions. Now they are susceptible to everything you have to say, even if you're words do not have any substance behind them. Take Hitler for example, he was a master at using the power of rhythm, and used it as a powerful and literally destructive weapon in all of his speeches. Even when he said things that didn't make any logical sense, people still believed what he said and didn't question it at all. Even though when you would show them these subjects the way he described them in a logical manner, people would think they were appalling. He could make them believe what he wanted them to because by making them emotional, and thus opening them up to his influence.
Emotion is the most powerful weapon of the speaker, if you can arouse the correct emotions in your audience, you can make them do anything you want them to.
3 Accumulation of Argument
To make the listeners believe the things you want them to believe, you first have to take them from where they are now, to where you want them to go. This is why all of your speeches should be an accumulation of arguments, all heading towards the same conclusion. These arguments should logically build on each other, where the conclusion you're heading towards gets clearer and clearer, and eventually, you powerfully close your arguments with a clear and logical conclusion.
As Churchill put it beautifully: 'The enthusiasm rises. A series of facts is brought forward all pointing in a common direction. The end appears in view before it is reached. The crowd anticipates the conclusion and the last words fall amid a thunder of assent.'
You need the emotional part of your speech in check, but to really seal the deal, you also need to perfect the logical side of it. You can achieve a lot when you arouse the correct emotions in people, but when your argument is not understandable or doesn't make any logical sense, there is a big chance that you will lose their attention either way. If you simply combine the use of the principles that arouse emotions in the listener with a consistent accumulation of logical arguments towards a straightforward conclusion, then no one will be able to resist your message.
The best way to make your arguments understandable to every listener is by using analogies. Analogies are used to make abstract concepts and thoughts understandable by relating them to something the listener already knows about and understands. The analogy also gives some kind of proof for why your argument is true, because now you have something they can compare it to, something that occurred earlier, and it makes your argument that much more believable.
Analogies, metaphors, and stories are the most ancient ways humans have transferred knowledge to one another. Take the Bible for example, a book that is mostly a compilation of stories and metaphors with valuable lessons hidden inside of them. Stories and comparisons have always been the way that humans learn best. You learn from your own experiences, but also the experiences of others. Stories and analogies are a perfect way to transfer an experience onto another person without them physically having to experience the event. This way the other person can learn the same lesson, but without the physical experience. Analogies can be from stories, daily occurrences, or simply proverbs. A good analogy always provides a picture or a sensory impulse to the listener. You want them to really imagine what you are saying in picture, and the best is to make them feel or even smell something to amplify the effect.
Analogies also allow your listeners to believe that what you are saying is already known to them. The unknown that you provide is simply an extension of what they already know, only a tiny bit different. It shows them that what you are saying is not that abstract or different at all, but that it is actually very similar to some concept that they are already aware of, they just haven't made the connection themselves yet. But you are going to help them with that.
Churchill describes this as: 'The ambition of human beings to extend their knowledge favors the belief that the unknown is only an extension of the known: that the abstract and the concrete are ruled by similar principles: that the finite and the infinite are homogeneous.'
5 Extravagant language
The most important aspect of convincing people of your arguments and even inspiring them, as we mentioned before, is making them feel the emotion you want them to feel. One last element that is necessary to get the emotions of the listeners to the highest possible level, is using extravagant language. This means using language that is full, powerful, emotional, and perhaps even bold. Words such as 'terrifying', 'disastrous', or in a more positive manner: 'incredible' or 'magnificent', carry a strong meaning with a lot of emotion attached to them.
As Churchill says: 'The emotions of the speaker and the listeners are alike aroused and some expression must be found that will represent all they are feeling.'
It can't simply be any emotion that you just toss into your argument. The emotion has to connect with what you're trying to convey, and it has to make sense in the situation. Extravagant language is mostly used to amplify a certain emotion. Instead of simply saying the situation doesn't look good, you say: "It looks like there is no hope of us recovering from this situation."
This conveys a much stronger meaning and amplifies the negative emotion in this case that the situation doesn't look good.
When you use all of the previous elements of oratory to arouse emotions such as rhythm and analogy, and you combine them with the use of extravagant language, you will stir up your listener's emotions to the max. The premise is, that if you make people emotional, they are easier to influence, persuade and inspire. Logic makes people think, emotion makes them act. If you heighten their emotions by using these principles, you make it as easy as possible to influence others and convince them of your arguments. This power can be used for doing very bad things, like how Hitler used it, but it can also be used for good, and for inspiring people to fight for what is right, like Winston Churchill did. If you are a good person, and you want to help the world, then possessing this 'gift of oratory' is an absolute necessity.
"He understood that in the Victorian era of long political speeches he needed to entertain if he was to instruct, persuade and inspire." ~ Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking With Destiny
Read the original version of 'The Scaffolding of Rhetoric here':