3 Communication Lessons from Winston Churchill

If you want to become a better communicator, look no further than Winston Churchill. Churchill was a consummate communicator. Some loved him, others hated him; everyone listened to him. He spoke passionately, but in the measured tones of the old-school; his command of English was unrivalled, to rival all other speeches; his speeches were driven by deep personal beliefs, and people believed him. Here are three communication lessons we can learn from Churchill.

1. Desire to communicate effectively

This may sound like an obvious point to make, but I’ll explain why it isn’t. Churchill wasn’t a born orator; he fought a speech impediment all his life. He wanted to be a good communicator, and his deep desire to connect with people is reflected in the stirring speeches he made, which are still remembered today. To truly want to communicate effectively will lead to behaviours that will ensure you work solicitously and punctiliously to both understand your audience and appreciate the impact your message will have on them. In other words, you will work hard to create and deliver your communication, just as Churchill did.

2. Emphasise universal values

One of my favourite Churchillian quotes is:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

There are universal values that provoke little resistance: courage, patience, tolerance, doing the right thing and generosity, to name but a few. Churchill understood this, and used it to great effect throughout his premiership. Whether invoking the British ‘fighting spirit’ or British stoicism, he understood that this was a way to connect with the hearts and minds of his people.

3. Employ narrative techniques to make your point

Churchill’s linguistic originality owes much to his use of ancient rhetorical devices: allegoryanaphorachiasmus , antithesis and, of course, humour, were amongst his favourite devices when seeking to make a point. People remember stories and vivid descriptions more than they do facts and figures. Here are some of his more famous quotes by way of illustration:

Never, never, never give up.” (Repetition)

When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.” (Allegory)

Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.” (Antithesis)

Yet his outstanding communication ability was not solely due to his seemingly instinctive use of narrative devices (not many of us can pull an ascending tricolon out of a hat and jazz it up with a chiasmus, for example) – his gift for compression was also a factor. Some accuse his speeches of being orotund, bombastic and full of circumlocutions, but he would typically intersperse the more florid elements of his speech with short punchy phrases. For example, if you take the following oft- repeated quote:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

The first part of the sentence is, perhaps, a flowery way of describing war, but the concepts contained within the last part of the sentence (from “so much” to the end), the anaphora (the repetition of “so”) and the descending tricolon (i.e., from “so much” descending to “so few” – since you’re interested, you can read more on that here) are loaded with emotion, leaving the British people (“so many”) with absolutely no doubt about their enormous debt (“so much”: free speech, civilisation, values) to the fighter pilots (“so few”) who died for them.

Churchill worked hard to produce astonishing speeches; he even prepared his impromptu remarks. This, coupled with his genuine desire to become a better communicator, was the foundation for his oratorical success. We cannot be Churchill, but we can learn from him and become better communicators.

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