We previously looked at Part 1 of the 10 speeches that changed the world and in this post we will continue the countdown to number 1. It takes more than a cleverly compiled fact filled narrative to deliver a message and a special set of skills to bring that message to a wider audience.
5: Jawaharlal Nehru, Parliament House, New Delhi, August 14, 1947
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”
Being the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered this speech on the eve of Independence from Britain. He called upon the strength of the Indian people and referenced both the struggles and the new dawn for the country.
Nehru uses his impeccable speaking ability to influence and offer hope to a new generation . His powerful speaking persona stood him well and he continued to reign for 17 years as Prime Minister of a new powerful India.
4: Elizabeth I of England, Tilbury, August 9, 1588
“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm, to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”
It would seem that Elizabeth 1 was well before her time, delivering a speech about gender equality. Having rebuffed Philip of Spain’s advances, she was well aware of the rumour mongers in court post Queen Mary’s execution.
In confronting the accusations, her speech worked brilliantly and served as an inspiration to the men gathered to her. It also worked for Elizabeth in that it changed the way she was seen at the time and forever in the history books. It was most definitely a turning point for the Monarchy and defined Queen Elizabeth as a force of strength and not a weak and feeble woman.
3: Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
Lincoln gets so much into those words that it is surprising he needed all of 272 for the whole speech, which should be in every speaking video course as a reminder to ‘keep it short’. The full Gettysburg Address can be read in under three minutes.
Gettysburg was the only northern Civil War battlefield and the occasion was a commemoration of the war dead. Lincoln could easily have done a desultory eulogy, but instead he decided to take a risk. He begins the speech with the ever quoted, “fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. Lincoln, through cleverly constructed words actually refers to slavery.
2: Martin Luther King, Washington DC, August 28, 1963
“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day — this will be the day when all God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing . . . And when this happens all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
If you have never read the full speech, do it now- it’s that good. The famous passages of this speech get even better when you realise the focus of their composition. King was speaking at the March on Washington and every speaker was given a 5- minute time slot. He was told on no account to repeat the ‘I have a dream’ that had been repeated on the Campaign trail so they came up with a new script, one which fell flat on it’s face when read verbatim.
It wasn’t until Mahalia Jackson urged King to tell them about the dream that King put aside the script and spoke from the heart. And history was made!
1: Winston Churchill, House of Commons, London, June 18, 1940
“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation . . . 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’.”
Churchill didn’t always speak appropriately but sometimes it seemed everything slotted into place. It took the travesty of war for his words and the times to click and Churchill has many phrases that have set in people’s hearts and minds:
- Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few
- Blood, sweat, toil and tears; we will fight them on the beaches
- We shall never surrender; this was their finest hour
It’s without doubt that the huge character of the man and the diligence taken to craft his oratory skills helped Churchill to win a war that had to be won.
For help in crafting your speaking skills, my video course is on special offer.