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.

Using Statistics

Some of us may never contemplate using a statistic in our message, others are drawn to them in every introduction they write.  Statistics can be effective, or they can be totally counter-productive.  I was just reading some advice on the use of statistics (not a preaching or Christian source, but helpful nonetheless).  He suggested you decide whether the statistic is being used to add credibility or to be memorable (a statistic will not do both unless it is stated specifically and then restated in relevant terms that can be remembered).  So here is James Humes advice in three points:

1. Reduce the number of statistics. It is better to use one than to use several.  Pick the best one and then communicate it effectively.  To use two or more will only confuse and undermine your goal.

2. Round the numbers in the statistics. Sometimes you will want to stay specific (to add credibility), but for a memorable stat, round the number.  (More than 25,000 is better than saying 26,315.)

3. Relate the statistic to the listeners. Numbers are hard to visualize, so restate your stat in terms they will understand (so many thousands of square miles is better stated as “about the size of …” an area they know, or so many millions of dollars is better stated as “dollar bills placed end to end, this would stretch from Seattle to Miami, or whatever).

Often statistics are of minimal value in preaching, but sometimes an arresting or startling statistic will help in setting up a message or a point in a message.  Be sure to use that stat wisely.  And one piece of advice that should be added for us as preachers of truth – be truthful, don’t twist, don’t falsify, don’t lie.  Integrity matters.