The Business of Persuasion (Part 3)

February 5, 2013 Books

I started this blog because I wanted a forum and a reason to put my ideas in some comprehensible form and on paper (or at least the electronic version). I knew the rigors of this discipline would force me to vigorously examine my ideas and in turn enhance my skills. This set of blogs on business books has made this a reality. I went back to each of the books and absorbed again their best ideas. Fortunately I am an inveterate highlighter and love to write marginalia so I don’t have to re-read the books in their entirety but only my highlights and notes. My library is full of self-annotated books — if only I had time to read them all again  . . .

churchill1 5The next book revolves around one of my favorite people in history — Winston Churchill. This man not only saved the free world from Hitler and the scourge of fascism, but along the way also won the Nobel prize for literature. Quite an accomplishment. Churchill was not the best of the public speakers but he wrote some of the best political speeches. He was a better writer than performer especially since he had a small but obvious lisp. Some of his phrases will live forever:

“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 suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is 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.”

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. 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 now. 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 free 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.’ “

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers by James C. Humes

I enjoyed looking back into this book because it has so many usable ideas for the public speaker. It also is a treasure trove of quotes and how to dramatically deliver them. It is a how-to book stuffed full of practical ideas which one can put to use instantly. Humes presents 21 tips in the form of chapters that he has found through his research into the foremost politicians and writers. Humes is the perfect author for this book. He is famous for his one man shows playing Churchill. He really gets into the man’s skin so he knows what worked for Churchill.

Here are some of the best ideas from the book:

I am a firm believer in getting impact right at the beginning of a speech. I have written several posts on this blog called the first minute. Humes has great advice on to do it.

“Before you speak, try to lock your eyes on each of your soon-to-be listeners. Force yourself before you begin your presentation to say in your own mind each word of your opening sentence. Every second you wait will strengthen the impact of your opening words. . . .  Stand, stare and command your audience and they will bend their ears to listen.”

“The prime time of any talk or presentation you give is during your opening words. Everyone in the audience is waiting to see what you look and sound like. Do not waste that psychological edge with trite blather.”

Instead of thanking people, which always sounds insincere at the beginning of the speech, or even worse fall flat with a mildly funny joke, capture their attention. Make a dramatic statement. A great example from FDR: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

I love to use quotations in speaking and writing. I collect them in files on my hard drive. I also love to put them into PowerPoint slides and use them during speeches. Humes gives excellent advice on how to make the most of the perfect quotation. “Use only one quotation per speech and dramatize it. Stage it, perform it, act it out! Put power into your quotation!”

Humes also allows the speaker one statistic a speech. He advises to make it as memorable as possible just like the quote. Example– pull out an index card out of your jacket pocket, carefully put on your glasses, only then read it to the audience.

He gives one I would love to use in a tax evasion case: “We ought to make May 15th instead of April 15th the deadline for filing your income tax – because until May 15th every dollar we make goes to the federal government.”

Humes was a speech writer for Ronald Reagan and passes on a tip from the former president. He said that Reagan never ate before speaking. He would only drink plain hot water. Reagan said he learned this trick from Billy Graham and Frank Sinatra. The hot water loosens the vocal chords while cold water constricts them. I have tried this and it works. The only downside is that the waiter thinks you are a little nuts.

He is a firm believer in long pauses. The worst thing a speaker can be is anxious and rush through the words. We all experience anxiety when speaking but we can’t let the audience feel it from us. Thus, instead of a rush of words in an effort to fill in pauses, we should be liberally using pauses to give effect to our words. Pauses allow the audience to absorb our ideas and they dramatize them. When you pause before a sentence, the audience perks up their ears waiting to hear what you have to say.

One technique I use on every public speaking opportunity is laid out in the chapter “Power Poetry.” Why poetry? Churchill would break down every one of his speeches into a rhymeless, meterless verse. Churchill wanted to read the lines as if they were poetry. It is set out phrase by phrase on the paper. Each line in its own paragraph rather than an impenetrable  block of sentences. The chapter demonstrates how to do it. Trust me, it works.

Humes does not just describe things — he shows on the pages how one can do it. He has broken the book up into 21 chapters which span the spectrum of writing, preparation, delivery, and even spontaneous speaking. It is an easy format to work with. Here are the chapters:

1. Power Pause
2. Power Opener
3. Power Presence
4. Power Point (no, not that kind of PowerPoint)
5. Power Brief
6. Power Quote
7. Power Stat
8. Power Outage
9. Power Wit
10. Power Parable
11. Power Gesture
12. Power Reading
13. Power Poetry
14. Power Line
15. Power Question
16. Power Word
17. Power Active
18. Power Dollar
19. Power Button
20. Power Closer
21. Power Audacity