Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill imagined that his audience was naked

Back on July 29 Scott Berkun, who is writing a book called Confessions of a Public Speaker, asked for research help on his blog. He wanted to know who first suggested that speakers imagine that their audience was naked.

He said that he had looked in Ron Hoff’s 1992 book I Can See You Naked: a fearless guide to making great presentations, but that although Mr. Hoff debunked that advice he did not offer a source for it. Scott asked: “If anyone can dig up a reference, or even a source older than Hoff, definitely let me know.”

That same day I answered Scott’s exact question via a comment on his blog post. Using a Google book search I pointed out that Dorothy Sarnoff, in her book Speech Can Change Your Life, 1970, said on page 199 that: “Winston Churchill overcame his early fear of audiences by imagining that each of them was sitting there naked.”

I also referred him to two other more recent books which turned up via Google:

Dorothy Leeds, PowerSpeak, 2003, page 33, “Winston Churchill liked to imagine that each member of the audience was naked.”

G. Michael Campbell, Bulletproof Presentations, 2008, page 109: “Winston Churchill is said to have controlled his nervousness before a speech by imagining his audience naked.”
-->The next day I posted on this blog. In the next few weeks I did not hear back from Scott. Then, on August 18 Lisa Braithwaite posted on her Speak Schmeak blog that Scott had emailed her and asked her (and her readers) for further help. She quoted Scott’s email as saying that one reader of her blog (me) had dug up some mentions of Churchill, but they're from books with no references. Note that the question now has been changed to ask for more. She did not answer his question, and had no replies to her post so far.

I found it mildly hilarious that Scott didn’t ask me if I could get any further on the topic. However, I posted another comment on his blog and pointed out that I did not find the naked audience topic in either of two books: Churchill By Himself (the definitive collection of quotations) edited by Richard Langworth and The Wit & Wisdom of Winston Churchill edited by James C. Humes. I suggested that Scott should ask the Churchill mavens (particularly Humes).

James C. Humes has made a career from his books on the topics of public speaking and Churchill. I have a copy of his book Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (2002).

Dorothy Leeds book, PowerSpeak does not have footnotes or a list of references. It does have a bibliography though, which includes two other books by James C. Humes, Speaker's Treasury of Anecdotes About the Famous (1985), and Podium Humor (1975). Churchill certainly is famous, and would be expected to show up in a book of anecdotes.

The Boise Public Library did not have that anecdotes book, but the Nampa library over in the next county did. Neither local library had Podium Humor. I requested the anecdotes book, but when I got the 1978 version was dismayed to find it did not mention naked audiences. However, I got several other Humes books from the Boise Public Library.

Page 17 of James C. Humes’s 1991 public speaking book, The Sir Winston Method (subtitled the five secrets of speaking the language of leadership states that:

“By the way, Churchill, as a psychological antidote, used to look at his audience and imagine they all were naked.“

He doesn’t provide a reference or footnote, but probably can be trusted since he also wrote a biography called Churchill: Speaker of the Century (1980). So, I am pretty sure that Winston Churchill gets the blame fame for imagining the audience naked.

When did he come up with this antidote? He was elected to the House of Commons in 1900, and obviously would have been speaking there. Then he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. So, it could easily be over a century old!

What can we learn from this search? First, it matters what search strategy or strategies you use. Second, the answer may not come from the most obvious place. Third, it may not come from the most obvious person. Lisa is better known than I am, but neither she nor her readers delivered in this particular case. Fourth, it’s not all out there on the Web – at some point you will need to step away from the keyboard and actually look in books at a library.

No comments: