A speech writer's take on important speeches, and the craft of writing for an audience.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Rock Star of a Speech
Title: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat Speech By: Winston Churchill Date: May 13, 1940 Location: House of Commons Occasion: First Speech as Prime Minister
Let’s begin by dispelling an urban legend. Despite the claim of a music publicist a generation later, this speech did not provide the inspiration for the name of a rock and roll band.
But it is a rock star of a speech.
It is a short speech, and it is Churchill’s first speech before Parliament, as the nation’s new Prime Minister. Early on, it is heavy on the administrative elements of establishing a new government. He outlines what has been done to establish the new government, then asks the house “to record its approval of the steps taken and to declare its confidence in the new Government.”
With the administrative functions complete he launches into the travails he sees ahead. It would still be more than a year and a half before the United States joined the war, and his nation had already been at war for seven months.
He prepares his government for the difficulties of the struggle ahead - “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Then he sets out the task before the nation:
“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.”
It is a call to action, direct, pointed, unambiguous. It is a wonderful way to inspire an audience. In this case, it inspired all those who longed to be free of the Nazi terror.
Seventy years later, it inspires free people still.
Text Posted:The Churchill Centre Length (words): 730
A veteran writer, researcher and lecturer, with more than 25 years experience in politics, political communications, and public relations. I’ve studied speech writing at NYU, and authored a number of published articles on the practice of lobbying as well as topics in American history.
My lecture on the War of 1812: 1812 – Uncle Sam’s First War, is now a lecture in the New York Speakers in the Humanities bicentennial commemoration series.