Write it like Winston

Make Churchill your muse

Edward R. Murrow said of Winston Churchill: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Executive quotes, sound bites

Word from the wise Some say Winston Churchill saved the Western world with his words. So why not model your executive quotes after his? Image by Laurel L. Russwurm

He rallied the British, defied the Nazis and inspired the United States to fight. Some say he saved the Western world with his words.

“Never, never, never give up.”

He was captured by the Boers and escaped. He wrote about his military adventures in newspaper articles and books. By 1899, he was one of the highest paid and best known British war correspondents.

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

In 1900, when Churchill came to the United States for a lecture tour, he was introduced by Mark Twain.

“There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.”

He coined phrases like “Finest Hour,” “Never give in” and “Iron Curtain.” He showed that words can change people’s minds and move them to act.

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.”

He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his contributions to the written word. In his spare time, he wrote 40 books in 60 volumes and painted more than 500 paintings.

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant.”

His words still inspire, 50 years after his death. He’s been quoted by presidents — and on Angelina Jolie.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

May I ask why every corporate communicator on the planet isn’t using Churchill as her personal and professional muse? Why don’t we model his words every time we write a speech, a sound bite or an executive message?

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Stop modeling tedious executive quotes.

One problem with executive quotes is that we model them after other executive quotes. That’s how we wind up putting together ridiculous lines like these, from the UK Press quote generator:

“A market first, our cutting-edge software product is a major move towards WAP-enablement.”

“Representing a radical step-change, our new product set tests the performance of enhanced customer care.”

“Out-of-the-box, our end-to-end solution recognises the importance of mission critical operations.”

If you want to write better quotes, steal from better sources. Raise the bar. Change the benchmark. Model the masters instead of the amateurs.

Raise the bar.

So instead of using other executive quotations as your models, model rhetorical masters like Churchill. He’s the guy who said:

“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”


“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”


“Kites rise highest against the wind — not with it.”

Don’t you wish your executives sounded like that?

They would — if you wrote better sound bites.

Find quotes to model.

Once you run out of Churchill quotations, model Lincoln. Or Reagan. Or Clinton. Or George W. Bush. Or Obama.

Find world-class quotes to model at BrainyQuote and Fagan Finder’s Quotations and Proverbs Search.

Learn more about modeling the masters.

Please share your best executive sound bite modeled on a Churchill quote. Please share the original quote, as well.

  • Write Killer Bites

    Turn lame-ass quotes into scintillating sound bites

    Half of reporters complain that quotes in releases don’t sound natural, according to a 2014 Greentarget survey. Maybe that’s why 78% of them don’t regularly use quotes from releases.

    Write Killer Bites: Turn lame-ass quotes into scintillating sound bites

    No wonder! As one of my clients says, “Quotes in news releases sound like the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon: ‘Wah wah wah wah.’”

    Transform your quotations from bleh to brilliant.

    At NOT Your Father's News Release — our two-day hands-on PR-writing master class on Sept. 6-7 in Atlanta — you’ll learn how to transform your quotations from bleh to brilliant. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Write tight bites. Even a lame quote will sound better when you use our quote length targets.
    • Put a quota on quotes. Steal a trick from The New York Times to avoid overquoting.
    • Write quotes that sound human — not like a computer spit them out.
    • Avoid the worst PR clichés. PR Newswire sees 1,284 of these in a single month.
    • Steal techniques from Silver Anvil winners. Make your sound bites sound better.

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