• Question: In Winston's Churchill's speech 'we shall fight on the beaches' he used a very monotone voice but this still had a large effect on the public. Although he had no rhythm how did he manage to make people pay more attention?

    Asked by diti to Sarah on 30 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Sarah Knight

      Sarah Knight answered on 30 Jan 2018:

      This is a really interesting question! First, what do you mean by “monotone”? Voices have both pitch and rhythm. If you mean that Churchill uses a fairly flat pitch (his voice doesn’t go up and down much), then you’re right — compared to some modern-day speakers, his voice does sound fairly flat. This is partly because styles of public speaking change over time — Churchill was talking 70 years ago! — and partly because different speakers have different styles. If you listen to Barack Obama, he has a fairly flat pitch, but he’s still a very good speaker — perhaps because a fairly constant pitch makes him seem in control and steady. And Churchill knows exactly when to alter his pitch to get people’s attention: for example, his pitch goes quickly up when he says “we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air”, drawing attention to this aspect of the speech and demonstrating the power of the “growing strength”. (By the way, here’s a link to a recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkTw3_PmKtc) But I have to disagree with you when you say Churchill has no rhythm 🙂 In fact, his speech is very rhythmic — it has lots of places when you can hear a nice steady beat. For example, as soon as he gets into the famous section about fighting on the beaches, he says (I’m using capital letters to indicate the beats): “we shall FIGHT on the BEACHES…we shall FIGHT on the LANDing grounds…we shall FIGHT in the FIELDS…we shall FIGHT in the HILLS”. This regular rhythm, and the repetition off the phrase “we shalll fight”, is exactly what makes this section so powerful. People get into the rhythm of the speech, and this grabs their attention and draws them in.