Bernard O'Riordan, Clarity Media Trainer
In media training sessions I sometimes encourage participants to “say it like Winston Churchill”.
It’s no surprise that it usually goes down like a lead balloon because Churchill was larger than life: an upper class Edwardian, one of history’s great communicators and a perfectionist to boot.
But like US President Ronald Reagan decades later, he knew the power of words and used simple language to deliver messages that appealed to the heart and the head.
Churchill understood that people remembered phrases, not long-winded speeches, so he carefully crafted two or three memorable phrases into every speech. With a few well-placed, punchy quotes he was able to engage and convince people from all walks of life.
In his first speech as Prime Minister of Great Britain, he summarised his entire approach to life in one simple sentence: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Churchill wasn’t born with a silver tongue; long hours and deliberate planning went into crafting messages. So there’s no reason we can’t take a leaf out of his book and try to use simple, safe and sparkling language to explain, inspire or convince.
When it comes to the media, simple words used in the right way are usually the difference between delivering a memorable quote or soundbite and a forgettable one.
For some reason, many business leaders, politicians and other professionals cling to industry jargon and multi-syllabic words in the belief it makes them sound intelligent or look smarter. But jargon and big, complicated words are like speed bumps, detracting from your message.
If a reporter doesn’t understand what you’re saying, chances are your target audience won’t either.
We could all do well to imitate Churchill's strategy, because, in his words: “Short words are the best, and old words, when short, are the best of all.”