It is Thursday again already, and that means it is time to make another entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review. This week I discuss a text that presents itself as a handbook on presentation and speaking techniques, but it is much more than that. While it is one of the better books on public speaking strategies that I have read, I think that its real value is as a collection of anecdotes, speeches, and quotes from some of the greatest speakers of all time. By combining these historical examples with the numerous speaking skills it introduces, this work gives the reader an enormous amount of priceless advice on public speaking to apply to their own presentations. This week I present the book, “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln,” by James C. Humes.
In his guide to becoming a great public speaker, Humes discusses 21 tools and strategies to improve your charisma and presentation skills. Although he writes from a perspective of presenting in corporate settings like client meetings, presenting to the board of directors, and motivating employees, the techniques he introduces are readily applicable to almost any public speaking event. Nearly every aspect of speaking is covered from developing your material to working on your verbal delivery to what you wear and your body language on stage. In addition to all of this great information and advice on the technical aspects of speaking, “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” also gives you numerous examples from some of the most influential orators ever, such as John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Shakespeare, to illustrate how to apply each skill. The stories and speeches selected come from a diverse range of professional and historical contexts also, which helps to show how these techniques are useful in lots of different situations. This incredible combination of technical, rhetorical advice and amazing, historical examples makes the information presented in this masterpiece easy to understand and apply to your own presentations.
As you would expect from an author who has worked as a professional speech writer, presentation consultant, and keynote speaker, the writing style of Humes is both enjoyable and effective. He does a great job of keeping his examples of each skill short and on topic by skillfully setting the scene for each quote and anecdote. This is an improvement over many books in the genre that make the reader digest pages of a lengthy speech where only one paragraph is pertinent to the current concept being discussed. I also felt like this text did better than most other books on the subject of speaking when it comes to breaking up the material into digestible sections. Each chapter is relatively straightforward and to the point while still giving you a host of information. The only thing that I took issue with in this book was the way the techniques are presented as equally applicable to all types of presentations. I felt like some discussion about how certain rhetorical tools are more appropriate in certain types of situations more than others would have been useful. For example, in the type of speaking I do, that aims to motivate and inspire people with stories, visual aids and slideshow presentations often do more harm than good, because they take the audience’s attention away from what I am saying. In the boardroom however, using PowerPoint to provide charts, graphs, and other supporting information is a useful tool to make your point. Providing these types of distinctions for each lesson would help the reader best apply all of the powerful techniques that are provided to their own work.
“Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” is without a doubt one of the top three books on public speaking skills that I have come across (and my “ebookshelf” is filled with books on this topic). I guess when the title includes two of the greatest orators of all time, you should expect nothing less. Whether you are an up and coming professional speaker or wanting to improve your presentation skills to climb the corporate ladder, this handbook will provide you with countless insights and examples to improve your craft. Although it could have included more information about situations in which each technique is most effective, there is nothing really bad to say about this masterpiece. Even if you are only looking for powerful examples of rhetorical tools throughout history, this is well worth reading. That is why I give “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.