Lend me your ears

Seventy-five years ago Winston Churchill delivered one of the most stirring speeches of his career when he paid tribute to the efforts of the RAF during the Battle of Britain.

Many elements contribute to making a speech iconic; excellent oratory skills, carefully chosen words, snappy sound-bites or the ability to convey emotion. But even the most gifted orators have found that public speaking requires plenty of practice.

1940 to 1951

A matter of record

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Churchill did not deliver all of his iconic speeches in one take.

Churchill has been labelled as the greatest orator of the 20th Century but he was not a natural public speaker.

The prime minister had a slight stutter and a lisp, prompting him to practise his delivery for hours. His wartime speeches are recognised as some of the greatest ever made but many of those famous soundbites were recorded after the event as the House of Commons was not wired for audio recording at the time. In 1951, the BBC persuaded Churchill to record some of his wartime communications for posterity but it was not always a smooth process.

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1960 to 1963

Kennedy's charisma

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John F Kennedy was one of the first politicians to benefit from television debates.

During John F Kennedy’s rise to the US presidency, he became well-known as a magnetic speaker.

In 1960, during a debate with the Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, many listening on the radio believed Nixon fared just as well as Kennedy. However, the audience of over 60 million who watched the same debate on TV heavily sided with Kennedy. JFK also had some gifted speechwriters, who coined phrases that have since gone down in history.

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10 October 1980

Finding your voice

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Margaret Thatcher had vocal coaching to lower the pitch of her voice.

Margaret Thatcher was the UK's first female Prime Minister and faced obstacles because of her gender, not least when it came to public speaking.

In the male-dominated field of politics Mrs Thatcher was advised to receive coaching to lower the pitch of her voice in a bid to sound more authoritative. Mrs Thatcher spoke candidly about the disadvantage of being a woman in politics but she honed her speaking skills and her uncompromising politics earned the nickname the Iron Lady.

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28 January 1986

Acting the part

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Ronald Reagan's experience in front of the camera before his move into politics helped him when he eventually became president.

Before his successful foray into politics, Ronald Reagan was an actor and used some of those skills in his political life.

Reagan admitted that appearing in front of a camera came naturally to him. His ability to convey emotion in his speeches also saw him labelled as a gifted orator. Reagan was praised for the manner of his emotional tribute to those who lost their lives in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986.

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1997 to 2007

Soundbites and spin

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Blair coined the phrase 'the people's princess' after the death of Princess Diana.

Tony Blair swept to power in 1997 and led the Labour Party to three consecutive general election victories.

Labour's most successful prime minister was hailed as a gifted communicator and was acutely aware of the importance of projecting a stylish public image for his party. Blair was known for his soundbites, notably during the Northern Ireland peace process and in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, but also attracted criticism for using them to create political spin.

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4 November 2008

'Yes we can'

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'Yes we can' summarised the positivity of Barack Obama's presidential campaign of 2008.

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, his rallying cry of ''yes we can' became synonymous with his victory.

It has since been revealed that President Obama had reservations about the phrase, believing it may have been "too corny". The repetition of the phrase became something of a mantra and many of his supporters chanted the phrase during and after his successful campaign. It helped to fuel a positive image of Obama as he went on to win both the majority of the electoral vote and the popular vote.

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