Communicating the Winston Churchill Way

4 min read • Sep 23, 2020 • Grant Olsen

Small business leaders might never face challenges on the scale of what England dealt with during the WWII years, but they can certainly learn communication skills from Winston Churchill. There was a subtlety and conviction to Churchill’s delivery that unified his people and compelled action. What leaders wouldn’t want to do something similar for their businesses?

“In the dark early days of the Second World War, Churchill had few real weapons,” notes a biography from the Imperial War Museums. “He attacked with words instead. The speeches he delivered then are among the most powerful ever given in the English language. His words were defiant, heroic, and human, lightened by flashes of humour. They reached out to everyone in Britain, across Nazi-occupied Europe, and throughout the world.”

So impactful were Churchill’s communications that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. What makes his accomplishments all the more impressive: Churchill wasn’t always viewed as a leader. He struggled at times in school and was regularly rebuked for his lack of focus and reliability.

How did Churchill become such an effective speaker? Here are some of the attributes he developed and applied to great effect, perfect for incorporating into your own business communications.

  • Practice to make perfect: Churchill didn’t just decide to be a great orator—he made himself into a great orator. When he was a child, people often struggled to understand him because of a speech disorder. He dedicated time to refining his enunciation, allowing him to overcome the issue later in life.

Likewise, you can identify areas to improve your communication and then put the effort into making them happen. Your ability to inform and inspire will undoubtedly improve.

  • Communicate to be understood: Churchill had an immense vocabulary, but he usually opted for the words that would deliver the message with maximum clarity. Consider this excerpt from a famous speech he gave during the tumultuous years of WWII:

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

By using short words with high impact, he conveyed his message clearly and inspired a struggling nation. You can incorporate this practice into your communications by making comprehension your top priority, rather than trying to impress your audience with the use of large or obscure words.

  • Take your time: It’s said that Churchill would put an hour of preparation into each minute of a speech. Whether this proportion was exact or not, it reflects his contemplative approach to communication.

If you are writing a work email, don’t send it until you’ve reviewed every word in the message. You may even want to use a feature like Gmail’s “Undo Send” setting, which allows you to revise an email for a short time even after you’ve clicked “send.”

Most of the world’s best communicators like to sleep on things before saying them. It may appear to us that they just open their mouths and deliver perfect messages, but they’ve usually pondered the topic and revised their communication prior to you receiving it.

  • Speak to everyone: There are times when your audience will appreciate jargon, acronyms, and other insider forms of communication. But those situations are few and far between.

The better approach: use words that everyone understands in order to deliver the relevant content to your chosen audience. This ensures your expertise is clearly showcased to the largest possible audience.

  • Get visual: Churchill was famous for the evocative nature of his speeches. Even if your business never gives a wartime address to the nation, you can still use metaphors and other illustrative language to make your communications more interesting and memorable.

When possible, use actual images in your communications, like photos or charts. Words are beautiful things, but when there are too many of them crowded into one space, your reader’s brain may go numb.

By applying some of Churchill’s wisdom, we can all improve our communications. It’s easy to put energy into high-profile presentations, articles, and press releases, but these lessons also apply to smaller written deliverables, like emails and product descriptions.

As small business owners, our attention is being pulled in a million directions. We probably don’t have time to pour a glass of scotch and ponder on a paragraph the way Churchill would, but we can put just a little more thought into each communication. Each time you’ve finished writing or preparing a communication, step back for a moment and try to review it objectively. This method of “finessing the finish” will help you avoid errors, deliver a more compelling message, and reach a broader audience.

Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.