Communicate like Churchill

Posted by Deltek Partner Guest Blog on February 8, 2019

Communicate like Churchill

By Randy Wilburn, Chief Encourager, Encourage Build Grow, LLC, Deltek Guest Author

Summary: Many of us recognize Churchill as an accomplished public speaker, but did you know he was also an excellent listener? While it may not be 1940 London, England, professional services firm leaders today face a host of communication challenges—when dealing with clients or communicating internally with teams. Through the lens of the life of Winston Churchill and his success in WWII, Randy discusses the importance of developing solid listening and communication skills for leading a project-based business. Randy delivered this presentation in one of the executive sessions at Deltek Insight 2018.

Churchill Knew the Importance of Listening


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill was not always a successful Statesman and Leader. If you know your history you know the outcome of his story and the success that reluctantly embraced him during his first tenure as Prime Minister of England during WWII.

The English and Allies prevailed over Nazi Germany and won the war.

It’s what led up to those events and everything that Churchill did to gain favor and support for his ideas and beliefs that makes his story a perfect tale of effective communication and leadership.

Churchill had to convince everyone that going to war against Adolf Hitler was the only way. Many in his own War Department saw no hope in this approach and preferred entering into a Peace agreement with Germany. Churchill used everything in his leadership arsenal including active listening to learn and understand what the people of England wanted.  Armed with that knowledge, he was able to get both politicians and the general public on board with his plans for England by crafting and forcefully delivering amazing messages over the BBC Radio, in front of Parliament and at several key public events.

Many of these messages have become timeless classics including the “We shall never surrender!” speech in the House of Commons in June of 1940.  

The Power of Active Listening

Active Listening can really make a difference. You can use some simple techniques to become a better listener and someone who colleagues are willing to confide in because they know that their words are not falling on deaf ears.

There are several active listening techniques, but here are three that stand out:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are designed to encourage a full and meaningful answer from a person relying on their own knowledge and, or feelings.
  2. Utilize effective pauses. Deliberately pause at key points in a speech or dialogue for emphasis. This communicates to the audience that you are saying something that is very important to them.
  3. Summarize the discussion. Bringing together the facts and pieces of the problem that are being discussed help to drive a more complete understanding. For example, “So it sounds to me as if we are saying. . .”

Like Churchill, once you get the listening piece down you are off to the races!  But wait, there is more!

Learn to Tell a Good Story


When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking about what they want to hear and one-third thinking about
what I want to say.”

Abraham Lincoln

Whether writing or speaking you should begin with the end in mind and craft your message based on the audience you are presenting to.  Canned messages never land the way you intend them to—but thoughtful messages that take into consideration the audience they will be delivered to almost always land with authority and resonate with those that are being communicated to. 

Facts and figures are great but no one will remember them. People will remember the stories you tell. 

When crafting your message you want to tell stories early and often. Figure out ways to highlight the points you want to convey by finding stories that will resonate with your audience to drive those points home. 

Practice does make perfect when it comes to delivering your message. You may need to memorize your speech or at least create an outline with key ideas anchored around your message and then practice the message over and over again in front of a mirror, your dog, or your kids at home - this may require some type of bribe but I’m sure you can convince them.

When you are comfortable with the material and it’s been tailored for your audience, you’ll sound more sincere and natural and your audience will appreciate it.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”

Da Vinci

If you are doing more than just speaking and perhaps using a PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi—you should adhere to a few rules.  Make sure you can project your voice in the room you will be speaking in, and be mindful of the pace of your message. Don’t try to rush through it. Take your time and allow pauses to be your friend. People will lean in when you pause during a message—this is an old school speaker trick that keeps an audience engaged and alert.

As far as visual presentations are concerned, Less is More! Don’t try to capture every word or idea on your presentation. Find images and symbols that convey the meaning you are trying to get across in your message and keep it as simple as possible. You should figure out a way to ditch the bullet points, and on most power points if you are using anything smaller than 30 point font you are putting too many words on a screen that most people will not be able to read.

Remember, less words and more images. Your audience will thank you!

Finally, consider using simplified language when delivering your presentation. Even if you have a bunch of 25 cent words that would sound cool coming off your tongue figure out a way to replace them with simpler words, avoiding acronyms and any jargon that would not be completely understood by the widest audience possible.

View “Communicate like Churchill” on SlideShare

Use Your Body in Your Delivery

Our body language comprises more than half of our ability to communicate. Make eye contact with as many members of your audience as possible.  Especially if you are in a large room with a big audience.  Scan the crowd and make the audience feel as if it’s just the two of you in a room and you are talking directly to them. Use your body language to express the words that you are sharing. Proper body language while delivering a speech can create a connection for the audience that comes across subconsciously.  

Finally, you need to smile as much as possible. 

“I’m so glad this talk went 20 minutes over time!” Said no audience member ever…

The final point to delivering a clear message and communicating like Churchill is to finish what you have to say before the audience has stopped listening. A good speaker is always done talking before the audience is done listening.  This creates additional time for possible Q&A or the chance for the audience to ponder what you’ve said before they get back to their day. 

When creating a message, time yourself and then work feverishly to shorten the message—removing unnecessary words or ideas that don’t help or enhance the main point of the story. 

Bottom line, keep it short and simple. 

Winston Churchill and so many other great speakers have practiced a lot of these habits with a considerable amount of success. It’s one of the reasons why their speeches still resonate with the many, instead of the few.

No matter who you are speaking to always remember that it is a privilege to be in front of your audience—that opportunity should never be taken for granted.

Whether you are delivering a short message to an internal project team, trying to sell a potential client on a new project or service, meeting with the leadership in your company, or delivering a keynote address, work to convey a message that will resonate with your audience so that they take notice and hear what you have to say.  You know what it feels like when you are at a speech and someone is “Phoning it in,” nobody wants to be there. 

Don’t be that person. Be better.  Know your audience and be like Winston Churchill...

About the Author

Randy Wilburn is an experienced Consultant, Trainer, and Public Speaker with more than two decades of management consulting experience. He is skilled in Leadership Training and Development, and Communication—including Presentation Skills, Active Listening, Public Speaking, Talent Acquisition (Recruitment and Retention), and Soft Skill development. Connect with @RandyWilburn on Twitter and Instagram.