Profiles of Great Communicators: Reagan and Churchill
- Dr. Jeff Myers Author, professor, and conference speaker
- 2002 15 May
When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981, things looked bad for the United States. Yet Reagan proclaimed that it was "morning in America" and sparked a national renewal.
Among other things, he drastically slashed taxes. He rebuilt the military. He also persuaded the Soviet Union to participate in ending nuclear proliferation. Most significantly, Reagan inspired Americans to believe in themselves and in their nation once again.
Many scholars attribute Reagan's success to his unique communication style. How did he do it?
Ronald Reagan began his career as a sports announcer, an unlikely start for a future president. Yet it was there in the announcing booth and on the sound stages that he honed the secret skill which propelled him to worldwide fame.
His secret was simply this: Reagan understood that people crave personal contact. In the intimacy of the announcing booth at sporting events, and in front of the cameras of Hollywood, Reagan crafted a communication style that was warm, calm, and personable.
Unlike politicians who spoke to people as a "crowd," Reagan communicated as if in a personal conversation. When Reagan came on the national scene, Americans were tired of patronizing politicians and distrustful of government.
Reagan's strength of conviction, combined with his vulnerable style, communicated that he trusted the people and that he himself could be trusted. It is a lesson all communicators should take to heart.
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," Winston Churchill announced gravely in his first speech as Prime Minister of Great Britain. It was, in one sentence, a summary of his approach to all of life.
Sir Winston was sickly and unloved by his parents as a young boy. Furthermore, he was plagued with a severe speech impediment. Yet he persevered and rose to the office of Prime Minister during World War Two.
Winston Churchill's speeches are among the best-loved public addresses of the 20th Century. It was Churchill's perseverance in banishing fear, combined with his love of the English language, that defeated Adolph Hitler.
That Sir Winston made an impression was not accidental. He carefully crafted and rehearsed each speech. Yet perfectionism alone cannot explain his success. Churchill developed a strategy to practically guarantee that people would remember his most important words.
The secret to Churchill's success was this: he saw words as weapons. He shot them out in short, staccato bursts. He often paired two adjectives together at a time and fired them as from a double-barreled gun. He marched them out rhythmically as if in a parade.
Churchill once told Edward Duke of Windsor, "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack."
Churchill understood that people remember phrases, not speeches. To be memorable, a speech must contain a few well-placed, punchy, rhythmic quotes. Churchill carefully crafted two or three such phrases into every speech.
In these days of "forgettable" speeches, communicators would do well to imitate Churchill's strategy.
You can discover more about Ronald Reagan's communication style, as well as how to unleash your own persuasive abilities, in Jeffs video coaching system "Secrets of Great Communicators." You can discover how Winston Churchill overcame fear to become such an outstanding communicator. You'll also learn four proven ways to banish fear and communicate with confidence in any situation, and creative language that delights the audience and make your speech memorable.
Dr. Jeff Myers teaches communication and leadership at Bryan College. He directs The Summit Ministries Program at Bryan college, a two-week training program which helps Christian young people learn how to defend their Christian faith and develop outstanding leadership skills. He is the author of several books, including Playpen to Podium: How to Give Your Children the Communication Advantage in Every Area of Life. He has also produced several video-training series, including "The Secrets of Great Communicators."