Churchill’s Power Line

James C. Humes, in his book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers, gives Churchill’s formula for planning a true power line.  In the speech of a politician this is the sound-bite designed to galvanize the nation, or reach millions in the media.  It’s the cream that rises to the top of a speech.  Perhaps we can consider these elements as we craft the message idea – our power line.

C for Contrast. Pairing antonyms in one line can work wonders.  Churchill declared,

“There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory!”

R for Rhyme. Subtle internal rhyming adds power to a line and makes it more memorable.  For instance, the rhyming of two seas in the famous Iron Curtain speech:

“From Stettin in the Baltic
To Trieste in the Adriatic,
An iron curtain has descended upon the continent of Europe.”

E for Echo.  Echoing a term within a line can add power to it.  For example, here’s Churchill again:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

A for Alliteration. This is not saying we should alliterate our points, that can be discussed elsewhere, but it adds power to that key line.  Consider a line apparently coming from Churchill on public speech:

“Vary the pose and vary the pitch and don’t forget the pause.”

Martin Luther King’s most quoted sentence is a classic example,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character!”

M for Metaphor. Well-chosen and framed imagery has much greater power than mere abstraction.  One more from Churchill:

“An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

One last tip to go with this list – use power lines sparingly.  One per message.  Any more is wasteful both in terms of your effort and your effectiveness.

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