Gary Genard's

Speak for Success!

"Be a voice not an echo." - Albert Einstein

How to Be the Best Speaker in Your Company!

Winston Churchill is the greatest statesman Britain has ever produced.

Abraham Lincoln was our greatest president.

George Washington remains the greatest American—for without Washington, there may never have been a United States.

In addition to their monumental political accomplishments, each of these leaders was a great speaker, for reasons that are specific to each. Can you learn from them to become a more powerful communicator on behalf of your organization? Indeed, you can. You may even become the best speaker your company has produced. (For powerful techniques to make what you say unforgettable, download my free cheat sheet"5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")

Here is what you can learn from this trio of world leaders, each of whom understood the importance of influential messages delivered with immediacy and style.

Abraham Lincoln's Eloquence

The crisis of our Civil War and the leadership needed during it to hold the country together is Lincoln's greatest legacy. But our 16th president also taught us some important lessons about spoken language.

The Gettysburg Address is a model of brevity, compression, and soaring rhetoric—a combination that’s quite a feat in itself!—and is rightly celebrated as one of America’s greatest speeches. Both of Lincolns’ inaugurals are also recognized, however, for immortal phrases. “The mystic chords of memory” and “the better angels of our nature” not only come from the first inaugural, but from the same paragraph. And this from the magnificent Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”

What You Can Use: Perhaps more than any of our presidents (with the possible exception of John F. Kennedy’s more self-conscious use of rhetoric), Lincoln understood the beauty, power, and music of our language. Have you considered how you can tap into this rich vein in your own presentations? To master the art of speaking for leadership, take a look at my Voices of Leadership coaching.

Lincoln, along with Churchill, grasped the power of simple, concrete, and impactful language—and the advantage of using Anglo-Saxon over Latinate phrases. How can you pare down what you’re saying, and use the other tools of rhetoric such as rhythm, repetition (called anaphorawhen words are used successively at the beginning of phrases), antithesis, comparisons and analogies, metaphors and similes, and onomatopoeia, in which words like “sizzle” sound like what they name?

And don’t forget humor, especially the self-deprecating kind, of which Lincoln was a master. Most presenters nowadays simply deliver information, usually relying too much on PowerPoint. Imagine how you’ll stand out if you use the beauty and power of English instead!

George Washington’s Humility as a Public Speaker

Historical accounts provide us with a George Washington who was proud, sometimes standoffish, who stood on ceremony, and who could become furious if his will was opposed. Yet in the speeches that mattered most in his career, Washington displayed a humility and self-sacrifice that all of us can draw inspiration from.

Displaying an amazing resolve, Washington provided the military leadership and steadfastness that again and again found victory in what seemed certain defeat. As the new country emerged, Washington might have assumed the powers of a monarch a grateful nation would have handed him. Yet he showed the greatness of his leadership by declining the invitation.

One appearance in particular showed that humility to great effect, and demonstrated that the country’s most famous citizen understood perfectly how words can move men. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Army’s officers were angry at rumors that they wouldn’t be paid their salaries and pensions. Insurrection against the civilian government, it seemed, was in the air. Washington met with these senior officers and gave a conventional speech urging restraint, which wasn’t particularly well received.

He then read a letter from Congress, squinting at first at the small type. He then stopped speaking, and reached into a pocket. The officers were surprised to see the great general bring out reading glasses. This is what he said, and the effect his words produced:

"Gentlemen," said Washington, "you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

In that single moment of sheer vulnerability, Washington's men were deeply moved, even shamed, and many were quickly in tears, now looking with great affection at this aging man who had led them through so much. Washington read the remainder of the letter, then left without saying another word, realizing their sentiments.

His officers then cast a unanimous vote, essentially agreeing to the rule of Congress. Thus, the civilian government was preserved and the experiment of democracy in America continued.[1]

What You Can Use: Washington’s example reminds us that we speak to serve our audiences, not the other way around. It’s called giving a speech, after all; and “how we do” is always of far less importance than “what they get.” If you or your team can get on this wavelength, you'll be far more effective in your business presentations. The Genard Method's on-site Speak at Your Best! corporate training can help get you there.

Do you worry, for instance, about how well you come across, or that you’re an excellent speaker? Doing that is virtually a guarantee that you’ll never be recognized as one. Make not only your preparation but also your performance aimed solely at meeting your audience’s needs, forgetting yourself. You’ll start to be recognized as someone well worth listening to. In many ways, your performance will then take care of itself.

Winston Churchill’s Boldness and Iron Will as a Speaker

The first sentence in this blog paraphrases Boris Johnson, the current mayor of London, from his piece on the importance of Churchill to modern-day Great Britain. That “greatest statesman Britain had ever produced” is some accolade for a “bit of a runt at Harrow,” who stood only 5 feet 7 with a 31-inch chest, and had to overcome a stammer, depression, and an “appalling father.”

Still, Johnson views this man as “something holy and magical.”[2] To anyone familiar with the state of British politics and defense in 1939, it may indeed seem magical that anyone could rally the nation to face the juggernaut of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, in a moment when England indeed stood alone.

Churchill is remarkable in another way—as a leader who not only spoke greatly (as many leaders have), but who provided the great writing that allowed him to do so. Churchill’s ego was legendary; but it gave him an invaluable tool, twin-edged, to rise to a rank few speakers ever reach: his tenacity and boldness.

Listen to that tenacity in these often misquoted lines:

Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.[3]

Above all, Churchill was bold in his pronouncements, whether it was to a nation facing the Nazi war machine, or a hostess whose dessert didn’t live up to his high standards (“Take away this pudding, it has no theme.”)

What You Can Use: Most presentations sink without a trace in the memories of listeners, partly because the speaker takes no chances. We can almost hear the thinking: “Presentations are always done this way here, so I’ll do it that way too.”

When audiences expect no surprises and don't get any, they're likely to join the speaker on cruise control. Do you play it safe? Do you make the mistake of thinking you’re there to deliver information, instead of activating the audience in some specific way? If content is your comfort zone, take a page from Churchill. Be bold and tenacious in your pursuit of excellence through speeches and presentations that not only say something, but say it with originality.

It mustn’t be a mindless kind of boldness, however, but should be aimed squarely at your purpose. Purpose must always take precedence over content—in fact, purpose should createcontent. Know exactly what you want to achieve, then bring in whatever you need to achieve it. And don’t be afraid to channel your inner Winston Churchill to be bold in your insistence on doing so.


[2] Boris Johnson, “He Stands Alone,” The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, November 8-9, 2014, C1.

[3] The speech was made in October 1941 to the boys at his alma mater Harrow School. It is often given as “Never, never, never give up.”

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Tags: public speaking skills,speeches,influence,organizing a speech,speech format,powerful presentations,leadership

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