One hundred and fifty years ago in the midst of our nation’s Civil War, prominent politician, diplomat and orator Edward Everett stood to deliver the featured speech dedicating Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Two hours and more than 13,500 words later, he sat down.
Next on the agenda was another politician whose role was to make only brief remarks. That’s exactly what he did. Abraham Lincoln spoke 271 words in two minutes.
Everett’s remarks — as well-researched, thorough and soaring as they were — were not long remembered by anyone except a few trivia-prone historians. Every schoolchild knows Lincoln’s.
The lesson is simple: Quality is far more important than quantity.
Too often clients forget this, and our advice to them is always the same: Be focused. Be pithy. Be memorable.
Why? The public’s attention span is short. The media’s is even shorter. And the situation is exacerbated as we are bombarded with ever more and faster streams of information. You have only a few seconds to capture the interest of your audience, then not much longer to convince them to keep reading or listening.
Whether you’re filing a lawsuit, responding to an allegation, or seeking to reassure and motivate employees, your words must flow effortlessly. If you’ve done your job well, no one sees all the work behind words. Think of it as well-practiced impromptu.
British politician Winston Churchill was a master of this. He’d devise a zinger, then let it lie in wait for the right opportunity. Consider these exchanges:
Bessie Braddock: “Sir, you are drunk.”
Churchill: “Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”
Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
Churchill: “Madam, if I were your husband, I would take it.”
A well-turned phrase isn’t just memorable. It compels agreement and action. It makes your case.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.