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

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8 Responses to “Write it like Winston”
  1. Executive Quote Contest:
    1. Executive Quote: “Leaders in our region are vital to the survival of Alaska Native cultures.”

    2. Inspirational quote: “Let us form one body, one heart, and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.” Tecumseh

  2. annwylie says:

    Love it! Next, I’d like to see you shape the executive quote around the Tecumseh quote? How do we make the executive quote sound as inspiring as the Tecumseh quote.

  3. Lukaszewski’s Churchillianisms?
    How my clients have quoted me in presentations, reports, even books and broadcasts. How are your clients quoting you?

    1. Trust is the absence of fear and fear is the absence of trust
    2. Bad news always ripens badly
    3. In crises just about everything gets worse before things start to get better
    4. Apology is the atomic energy of empathy
    5. Apologies make bad things start to stop happening
    6. In crisis:
    call your insurance company
    find a good crisis communications consultant
    hire a competent attorney
    call your mom
    do what your mom tells you to do, first. Things will get better by tomorrow afternoon.
    7. Truth is 15% facts and data and 85% emotion and point of reference
    8. Too many facts and too much data humiliates people and makes them angry and deaf
    9. Good victim story can defeat the greatest experts and mountains of data
    10. The first obligation in crisis management is to stop the production of victims
    11. The second obligation in crisis is to manage the victim dimension, or you will loose badly.
    12. Your mother was wrong. Stix and stones can break your bones but, if you survive, you will heal. Words cause invisible, bloodless, scarless, deep, wounds that never heal.
    13. Incivility inflicts powerful, personal, internal and eternally inflamed wounds and
    the permanent desire to even the score.
    14. Leadership is always about tomorrow.
    15. There is very little of value from yesterday. You can die there trying to find something
    16. The single most frequent cause of leadership failure in crisis is thinking they are too smart to fail

  4. Ann,

    Thought your readers might be interested in how I measure the level of influence an individual has a a trusted strategic adviser. It’s in the form of a quiz:

    Personal Quiz: Are You a Trusted Strategic Advisor?

    This is Lukaszewski’s ten powerful, personal attributes of a trusted strategic advisor. How many apply to you? The more you can answer “yes” to, the closer you are to becoming and being a trusted strategic advisor.

    YES NO
    1. Do people hold up meetings until you get there?
    2. Do people remember what you say and quote you when you are not in the room?
    3. Do people remember what you say and quote you when you are in the room?
    4. Do people above you require others to seek out your opinions and ideas?
    5. Do people above you seek out your opinions and ideas before presentation to more senior
    6. Do others try to influence you to influence your boss and those above you?
    7. Do others above you call you when important matters arise, before they call others?
    8. Are you frequently invited into discussions well before crucial decisions are made?
    9. Do people tell your stories and attribute them to you?
    10. Do people tell your stories as their own?

  5. annwylie says:

    What a brilliant way to measure influence, Jim. If you’re leading, someone had better be following, and this is one way to look at that. How are you measuring these citations? I want to do it!

  6. annwylie says:

    Some of these sound very familiar, Jim. I think I’ve heard you say them, but — who knows? Maybe it was one of your followers spreading the word. Interesting idea, Jim. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Be Very Careful with Quotes.

    These days when you quote someone you need to be very careful and get your homework done correctly. For several years I had a really sharp executive assistant who is very talented at finding the original of quotes. You’d be surprised, perhaps even stunned by how many quotes from famous people only faintly resemble what they said. Actually, I like using quotes and it was pretty irritating to have most of my favorites and the favorites of others debunked.

    Ann, in her column above, used one of my favorite Churchill quotes about being shot at. I’ve seen this quote in a variety of formats, none of which resemble the ending that Ann used, and that Churchill actually used,” being shot at, without result.” Kind of blah I’d say. The version I’ve actually used citing another famous person’s usage went something like this, Churchill loved war, just about everything about war. When asked about this one time after World War I, where he served, for a while, in France in the trenches, he was said to have replied,” the most exhilarating thing about war is being shot at and missed.” Not very accurate but a lot punchier.

    Today, every quote on the planet by just about anyone is available on the web. When you’re giving a talk, doing a webinar, a speech, teaching a class, if there’s a live audience someone is checking your quote accuracy. Students are more than happy to put you on the defensive, given the chance. And, you deserve it.

    I have even been challenged on my own quotes. Having published hundreds of articles and more than a dozen books all of which are easily web accessible, my thinking on many subject has evolved over the 40+ years of my practice. Occasionally, a really bright student will track a thought through a variety of iterations and they ask a question, something like,” Jim, in 1979 you first express this thought this way, in 1995 you changed it, again in 1999, again in 2006, and just a moment ago. Which one of the versions do you really mean or believe?”

    Be careful with quotes including your own.

  8. annwylie says:

    Another gem from Jim. And this guy is an official Churchillian! Thank you for weighing in, Jim!

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