This is a interesting and enjoyable little exercise that I use sometimes in my speechwriting and presentation courses. It’s also something and that any speechwriterimages such as me likes to do every now and then to kill time on a train or in an airport lounge.

 

You take Sir Winston’s Churchill’s famous “Fight on the Beaches” speech and turn into to modern management language. Here’s my suggestion: “We shall align our resources and develop synergies among our key stakeholders to deliver positive outcomes and meet challenging targets.”

 

Have a go yourself – you’ve probably been exposed to enough of this kind of meaningless, cliché-ridden garbage to find a few phrases that will fit the bill.

 

But seriously, why does the famous wartime prime minister’s speech work so well to inspire and motivate the people that he was talking to while modern management speak leaves audiences cold?

 

There are a number of reasons. The first is that he uses simple language. Almost every word is monosyllabic and it’s Anglo-Saxon. (Anglo-Saxon words are something that George Orwell praises in his essay Politics and the English Language, for their directness). Interestingly, one of the few polysyllabic works in Churchill’s speech by the way is “Surrender”. Its route is French and it’s the one thing he’s urging his audience not to do.

 

He also arranges these short words into short sentences. He’s commonly misquoted as saying “We shall fight them on the beaches” but the “them” is redundant – and so he takes it out it.

 

Every time a speech, a press release or almost any type of corporate communication goes through another approval process superfluous words will be added. I suppose that people feel that they have to amend a document to justify their role within the organisation. Perhaps they feel that they’re doing a better job of this justification by adding rather than taking away.

 

But Churchill was brilliant at editing and removing unnecessary words, sentences and messages. I heard a great phrase the other day – “Good writing is when you’ve taken away everything that you can rather than adding everything you want.”

 

The other good thing that Churchill the speechwriter does is to use concrete, visual images. Fighting on the beaches or the landing strips is not something that many of us are likely to do but at least we can visualise it. Using concrete, visual, specific stories, examples and ideas is the best way to get your audience onside and to connect with them.

 

Most importantly of all, Churchill has a single message. He didn’t have a team of people adding ideas for points he should make or messages he should include – or, if he did, he ignored them. The great prime minister is asking his audience to do one thing and one thing only. There could be no doubt among those huddled around their radio sets about what their leader wanted them to do.

 

Short, simple sentence, concrete ideas and images all used to put across a single, understandable message is what I aim for in work as a corporate speechwriter. After all, it worked for Sir Winston Churchill.