Speeches, we dread listening to boring ones; we are inspired by good ones; we even take action by persuasive ones. For those of you who fear standing before an audience, perhaps you should consider the importance of speeches in determining or at least depicting the course of history. Most of our speeches may never rise to that level, but I can justifiably say that the speech you give to will impact someone. History is littered with speeches of power and influence.
Hitler versus Churchill
As recently as WWII, speeches played a major role in that catastrophe. Adolf Hitler roused his nation to extreme depravities of evil. Powerful in word though evil at heart, Hitler, like tyrants who came before him, used his persuasive powers to turn the German nation against all that is good. Though not all ideas were his alone, he spoke persuasively and with power.
On the other side of the English Channel, Winston Churchill persuaded England to resist Hitler’s tyrannies. His speeches reflected his own dogged determination not to give in to the pressure of what seemed like certain defeat. While Hitler inflamed hatred and war, Churchill inspired courage and steadfastness. The soul of each nation, for good or evil, depended on the power of the public addresses of each man.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, when writing about the Persian wars (Persian Wars 9:26-27), tells how two sides of the Greek army gave speeches to justify their right to defend a particular territory in their battle with the Persians. Of course, each speech was a rationale for each side, but the fact is, their words (a debate of sorts) provided the ideas used by each side to defend and sustain their efforts. Other ancient historians also provide such speeches that reflect turning points in history.
More recent history would point to Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Though delivered after the battle, the speech has provided history with the president’s reflections of why the battle, and indeed the entire Civil War, was fought. We must also turn to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered during the struggle to obtain civil rights for all people, it represented the ideals of the civil rights movement and became a seminal moment to define what that movement was all about.
Even the New Testament
Even the New Testament provides speeches to represent transitions to new eras and to explain new ways of life. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the most notable, and Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost ranks high on this list of important watershed speeches. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 also illustrates the culmination of conflict between those who accepted Christ as the Messiah and those who didn’t. Stephen suffered martyrdom, and persecution quickly broke out against the church. We should also mention the Apostle Paul’s presentation to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17, a truly watershed event since the crowd’s reaction reflects what the well-educated thought about the message of the Gospel and perhaps still think of it today.
Perhaps you will never have the opportunity to make history by your speech, but don’t sell your message short. Any speech can make even minor changes in people’s lives. Speeches always have and always will. Learn to value the importance of giving a speech.
© Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC