This week I’ve been preparing a course on rhetoric and public speaking. For me, this preparation process is a cherished part of teaching; putting together the material is fun, and searching for it is even more intriguing. A link I’ve often used is Time Magazine’s list of the world’s greatest speeches:
Absolutely thrilling stuff. My personal favourite on this list has always been Sir Winston Churchill. His Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat speech from 1940 is one of history’s best battle cries, without a doubt. In this speech (his first as Britain’s Prime Minister), Churchill tied the outcome of the fight against the Nazis to the survival of Britain itself.
In today’s media mishmash it’s sometimes hard to remember what kind of impact that speech for instance would have had on its listeners. Families gathered by their radios, listening in grave silence to words which would shape the destinies of generations to come. I get chills down my spine just reading the speech – and, with any luck, I’ll be able to transfer those chills to the people attending my class.
The virtues of Sir Winston aside, there’s just one downside to Time Magazine’s list: it’s pretty patriarchal. Just one woman on it: Susan B Anthony. So if anyone has tips on great women speakers (and speeches) please pass them on, because I’d love to show my students that women (too) have a voice. Even better if there were recorded versions available – but that might be hoping for too much?
If you come up with anything or think of anyone, please do comment on this post or let me know on Facebook. Any tips would be much appreciated!