Winston Churchill’s 5 Secrets to Speaking the Language of Leadership

I thought I was reading another book on public speaking / speech writing, but this weekend when I read James C. Humes, “The Sir Winston Method: the Five Secrets of the Language of Leadership” I discovered public speaking for a leader necessitates the language of leadership.

Humes claimed on the opening pages that this is not another speech book, this is a leadership book. Good use of language, I thought. Then I read the book, he convinced me that the Sir Winston method is an opportunity to get better in the language of leadership. Whether it be the big talk or simply the opening introduction, you need to know the language of leadership. Whether it be a planned presentation or preparing for a meeting, you need to know the language of leadership.

Thanks to Free-Stock-Photos for Picture

In his book, Humes quickly covers Churchill’s 5 secrets:

Secret 1: Begin strongly: Impress your audience with an opening zinger.

Secret 2: Focus on one theme: A speech is like a symphony. It can have three movements, but it must have one dominant melody.

Secret 3: Use simple language: Toss out the beat-around-the-bush jargon of bureaucrats and pick up your pace with personal, colorful language.

Secret 4: Draw a picture in the listener’s mind: Transform dry abstractions like “private enterprise” into a powerful picture like “the sturdy horse pulling along the cart of democracy,” as Churchill did.

Secret 5: End with an emotion: Express feeling from the heart when you cap your speech.

Some of the secrets I learned over the years, such as the power of a strong introduction and focus on one theme what many call “the big idea”. Where Hume helped me is in the chapters that talked about drawing a picture, especially in the use of language. Churchill wrote speeches with more of a poetic flare than with an emphasis on prose. The book challenged me to look at how I use language in a speech, and how to use more of a rhythmic style.

Yesterday I had to make a significant announcement on a survey we had taken, and so Humes/Churchill helped me to write it out being cognizant of how to use language to lead. In my case and style, that meant the use of humor. Humes contribution was setting up sentences that played off each other in contrast.

The other great take away that I want to master is prepared impromptu remarks. Think about what will happen in the meeting you attend (they should be sending out an agenda), and if you know a topic is coming out that needs a response, have your response ready. Think through the best way to reply, to suggest, to work it out before you go to the meeting. That doesn’t lock you into one solution, it prepares you to listen, to learn, and then to lead.

The take away that intrigues me from this book that I have yet to try is one that Humes says both Churchill and Reagan mastered, the snapshot/snatch plan. Typically when I speak I have written out the manuscript but know it well enough to just use words and phrases as trigger points to tell the story/illustration I have developed. The snapshot/snatch plan is to write a great speech and then read it. Typically that’s done according to Hume by those who give either poor speeches or great speeches. The difference (besides the quality of what is written) is the delivery. Poor speech readers never pause, never look up, they just read. Great speech readers, like Reagan and Churchill, look down, grab a snatch. They then look up pause, then deliver the snatch/the line and pause again.

Yesterday I read my announcement, with a rare pause and even rarer eye contact. I wish I had taken more time to use the snapshot/snatch plan. Still some room for me to grow in the language of leadership. How about you? What are you learning about communicating the language of leadership?


1 Comment

Filed under Leadership Book Reviews

One response to “Winston Churchill’s 5 Secrets to Speaking the Language of Leadership

  1. Persuasive writing is indeed one of the best (although not the only) styles of writing for a leader.

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