“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, June 12, 1987
“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.” Winston Churchill in a message to the House of Commons and the British People June 4, 1940.
“With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God!” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941.
“……rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation… great beacon of light…palace of justice… seared in the flames of withering injustice…fierce urgency of now… I have a dream!” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Washington D.C., August 1963
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” John F. Kennedy at his presidential inauguration, January 1961
Just words? Hardly. These are carefully crafted messages, delivered with passion and powerful speech dynamics. They are a call to action; and all produced their intended results.
Winston Churchill inspired his tiny island nation to persevere in the face of the German aerial onslaught, and with the aid of a steady flow of war materiel, food, and fuel across the Atlantic, on to eventual victory in World War II.
Ronald Reagan called for the demolition of the Berlin wall, something unthinkable since it went up in 1961. But Reagan had a vision and used words to convey that vision. B arely two and a half years after his famous pronouncement, the wall opened and ultimately came down starting in June 1990.
Martin Luther King Jr., called for an end to segregation in his most famous speech delivered on the capital mall in 1963. The Civil Rights Act was passed the following year and the Civil Rights Voting Act the following year in 1965.
President John F. Kennedy put the world and the Soviets on notice that the United States would stand to ensure freedom. This pronouncement came eight years after Communist forces invaded South Korea from the north, and less than four years after Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush a call for freedom there.
Reagan was direct and to the point. There could be no misinterpretation of his message to Gorbachev.
Churchill was inspirational. “We shall fight… We shall fight… We shall fight… We shall never surrender.” Hard to miss the point on that one.
Dr. King was eloquent. He used visual imagery to reinforce his message throughout his speech that was heard by millions and is recited by school children even today. It wasn’t just a subtle reminder that we should put an end to segregation; rather we should all RISE from the DARK and DESOLATE valley of segregation. The call became a beacon of light (leading to) a palace of justice. It wasn’t merely the fact segregation was wrong, but that is was SEARED in the flames of WITHERING injustice. And he didn’t say we should eventually get around to it; he called it “the fierce urgency of now.” Finally he didn’t merely say he had a pretty good idea, rather “I have a dream.” A key message he reiterated 14 times in his famous speech.
John Kennedy wasted no words in his oratory. Like Reagan, he was a true communicator, leaving no room for any misunderstanding as to his meaning or intent. He loved short speeches, short clauses, short words, with everything in a logical order. He also used alliteration, “pay any price, bear any burden…” His goal was to communicate, to be understood. And Kennedy, with the help of Theodore Sorenson, one of the greatest speech writers of the century, and using tremendous speech dynamics with the emphasis on just the right words, applying the right inflection and timed pauses, left no doubt to his message – that a new generation of Americans would “assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
While your presentations may not assure the success of liberty, or put an end to state-sponsored suppression of freedom, your words, and the speech dynamics you employ in your delivery can have a tremendous impact. Whether it’s a presentation to colleagues in a staff meeting, or the city council, whether your comments are before a board of supervisors or the board of directors, your presentations can be informative, inspirational, and a powerful call to action.
Michael Drake is a presentation skills trainer who has helped more than 4,000 individuals improve their communications skills.