Winston Churchill was 29 years old. He was a newly elected representative to the House of Commons. The year was 1911.
His talk started off fine. But then he experienced a moment we all fear in front of a large group: He forgot the rest of his speech. For three long minutes he stood frozen in front of his new colleagues, Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storytellers Secret.
Winston heard the snickering and laughter of his political enemies. “Worse, his supporters whispered to one another and looked at the floor in an attempt to disassociate themselves from the catastrophe unfolding in front of them,” writes Carmine.
He finally sat back down and covered his head in his hands. He was sure his career was finished.
“Shipwreck” the newspaper exclaimed the following morning. A well-known doctor remarked Winston was suffering from “defective cerebration,” or early senility.
Winston Churchill decided he would never make that mistake again.
“From then on, he worked tirelessly to refine every word of every speech and made sure the only words he spoke were those he wrote himself and believed in with all his heart,” Carmine observes.
Fast forward thirty-six years to May 28, 1940.
“Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe. British soldiers were trapped at Dunkirk, and France was about to fall as German soldiers were marching toward Paris.
“The British island was alone,” Carmine writes.
As the newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston was under tremendous pressure from a majority of his cabinet to make a deal with Adolf Hitler. “A majority of the British people agreed that only an agreement with Hitler would save them,” Carmine reflects.
Winston called a meeting on his entire cabinet. He would not give in to the pressure: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground,” Winston asserted.
“In the span of two weeks and six speeches, Churchill successfully turned around public opinion. An entire population ready to cave to Hitler’s demands was motivated to pick up arms and fight to the death,” observes Carmine.
“If you read the history of the period, you realize how close the British were to making a deal with Hitler. If they had, Hitler would have remained unchecked and democracy would have been dethroned in much of the world, replaced with unconscionable evil, ‘the abyss of a new Dark Age,’ in Churchill’s words,” writes Carmine.
Winston’s early public speaking setback and his resulting determination to become a better speaker was “a triumph of effort and preparation” which changed the course of history.
Reflection: Looking at my past, are there any setbacks that fueled my desire to improve my abilities and capabilities?
Action: Take a moment to give thanks for Winston Churchill.