THE GREAT COMMUNICATORS
~~By Tim Bryce~~
- It’s not just what they said, but how they connected with you.
I have been a student of communications for most of my life, not just the media but how and why things are spoken. Not surprising, I am often asked who my favorite orators were. Most are politicians as the spoken word represents their bread and butter. I have six favorites who I would define as “Great Communicators”: Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Theodore Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, and Ronald Reagan. All had witty one liners, but they also knew how to deliver an important speech. In addition, all believed in preparation and rehearsal, and all spoke from the heart. Here are my favorites:
WINSTON CHURCHILL - was perhaps the best orator I’ve studied. Some of his histrionics in Parliament became legendary. For example, when an opponent was speaking, Churchill would divert attention away from him doing nothing more than searching his pockets for an unknown object he never could find. While the speaker was trying to make his point, the audience’s eyes were fixed on Winston. His quips could be both biting and witty.
“Any 20 year-old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart, and any 40 year-old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.”
Lady Nancy Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.”
Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”
George Bernard Shaw message to Churchill: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend… If you have one.”
Churchill’s response: “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second, if there is one.”
Churchill’s orations were well known, both before and after serving as the Prime Minister of Britain. For example, he coined the expression “Iron Curtain” in reference to the menacing growth of the Soviet Union. However, the three speeches he delivered as he began his tenure as PM are generally regarded as his finest as they stirred the British resolve to press on:
“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering… 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.” - May 10, 1940
“We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.” - June 4, 1940
“What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, 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.” - June 18, 1940
ABRAHAM LINCOLN - Although America’s 16th President was well known for his humorous storytelling, he could also deliver some pointed remarks with a dramatic flair:
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
His Gettysburg Address in 1863 was nearly overlooked by the media as it was short and simple. His slection of words though captured the country’s imagination, e.g.,; “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
It was a good speech and suited the day, but perhaps his most important speech was from his second inauguration as the end of the Civil War was in sight:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” - March 4, 1865
SAMUEL CLEMENS (MARK TWAIN) - the author was well known for his humorous observations….
“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself…”
“If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”
…But Clemens also had a serious side; here he comments on the meaning of life:
“A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and their vanities. Those they love are taken from them and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery, grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead; pride is dead; vanity is dead; longing for release in their place. It comes at last – and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness; will lament them a day and forget them forever. Then another myriad takes their place and copies all they did and goes along the same profitless road and vanishes as they vanished – to make room for another and another and a million other myriads to follow the same arid path through the same desert and accomplish what the first myriad and all the myriads that came after it accomplished – nothing!”
THEODORE ROOSEVELT - America’s 26th president was no funnyman, but his enthusiasm was contagious and invigorated the country.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
When addressing a somber subject, he presented his argument in a “matter-of-fact” tone:
“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
CLARENCE DARROW - well known American defense lawer who served in some of the most electrifying cases of the early 20th century, including the Leopold and Loeb case, and the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. His wit was legendary:
“The first half of our lives are ruined by our parents and the second half by our children.”
“I’ve never killed a man, but I’ve read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.”
“The trouble with law is lawyers.”
His arguments were notoriously logical and superbly delivered. In fact, a considerable portion of his courtroom oratory in the Scopes Trial was used in the movie, “Inherit the Wind” which portrayed the trial. During the case, Darrow argued:
“If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.” - July 13, 1925
RONALD REAGAN - Because of his ability to connect with Americans, our 40th President was dubbed “The Great Communicator” thanks in large part to his early work as a Hollywood actor. He enjoyed excellent stage presence and could effectively deliver a speech, whether he wrote it or not. His quips were politically motivated as opposed to trivial observations…
“Man is not free unless government is limited.”
“The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.”
“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
His Berlin speech is generally regarded as his best:
“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” - June 12, 1987
To me, his speeches made at the 40th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion in 1984, was his most personal and touching.
“Lisa Zanatta Henn began her story by quoting her father, who promised that he would return to Normandy. She ended with a promise to her father, who died 8 years ago of cancer: I’m going there, Dad, and I’ll see the beaches and the barricades and the monuments. I’ll see the graves, and I’ll put flowers there just like you wanted to do. I’ll feel all the things you made me feel through your stories and your eyes. I’ll never forget what you went through, Dad, nor will I let anyone else forget. And, Dad, I’ll always be proud.
Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far better than any President can. It is enough for us to say about Private Zanatta and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside him four decades ago: We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”
What made these people great communicators is not any flowery oratory, but their ability to craft and deliver the right words to connect with their audiences. They knew how to touch people, inspire them, and move them in the direction they wanted.
Keep the Faith!