One of my heroes in American history is Eleanor Roosevelt. An incredibly shy person, she eventually learned to overcome the terror so she could use her position as First Lady to speak about the causes most dear to her. She is the inspiration for this month’s column.
Many of our regular readers are familiar with the “three minute presentations” that are part of our Presence and Presentations skills curricula. I often ask the group: Why do you think we chose three minutes? Why not five or seven minutes? And the answer is that three minutes is plenty of time to get your point across as long as your material is well-crafted and your delivery is suitable for the purpose. More on this in a moment. First, listen to this speech delivered by Mrs. Roosevelt via radio on December 7th, 1941. She needed only 2 minutes 56 seconds to make her point completely and convincingly. Incidentally, she wrote this speech herself.
This speech is brilliantly crafted and delivered — here’s why:
– She set the stage early on. Listeners were informed simply and calmly that there was an attack on Pearl Harbor. No hysteria, no blame or empty rhetoric, just the facts as of that moment. Information makes people feel calm. One of her motives must have been to calm people who were justifiably terrified at that moment.
– She anticipated the key question and answered it. Knowing her listeners would be wondering why she was speaking to them and not the President. She said that the President was engaged in important conversations elsewhere, suggesting she was on the radio on his behalf while he assessed and took control of the situation.
– She had a clear call to action. She encouraged all Americans to continue to do their daily activities to the best of their ability, and if possible to do more to build up the morale and feeling of security in their communities. She modeled this behavior herself when she addressed the radio audience on the President’s behalf. She also addressed the “young people” in the audience directly, speaking of great opportunities and “high moments” ahead. The First Lady was connecting with them so she could plant the idea of being heroes in their own minds before they ever left their homes to enlist. Mrs. Roosevelt said “I believe in you” so they could believe in themselves. Simple and powerful.
– She put herself in the middle of the message. This was no politician speaking in empty platitudes; this was a mother whose own son was on a ship somewhere, possibly headed towards danger. Every mother and grandmother in the audience was one with her at that moment.
– She had a clear purpose: To inform and inspire. Listen to the words she chose, and listen to the lift in her voice on certain words and phrases. Beautiful pace, beautiful use of the pause. Completely captivating. There is no question that her purpose is to inspire.
– She ended with an image that would engage people’s hearts, minds, and imaginations: “I feel as if I am standing on a rock, and that rock is my faith in my fellow citizens.”
All of this in less than three minutes. No video. No PowerPoint. Just a beautifully crafted message delivered from the heart.
The next time you want to inspire an audience, keep Eleanor Roosevelt in mind. This shy First Lady managed to motivate a nation in just under three minutes. With careful preparation, simple jargon-free statements, and authentic delivery, you too can be a source of inspiration to others.