Learn to Speak Well to Influence Others

27 Jun


Abraham Lincoln was a marvel at speaking in public.

When historians point to the greatest speeches in history, Lincoln usually makes the top of the list with the Gettysburg Address, his inaugural speeches, and his debates with Senator Stephen Douglas.

He had been a politician and a trial lawyer for nearly 30 years, so he was fairly well-versed at talking to others.

His style wasn’t usually of the fist-pounding fiery type, but he typically took the tact of presenting the thoughtful, intellectual, well-reasoned argument that made everybody walk away nodding their heads in agreement.

The inspiration was quiet, but present; it was a challenge for opponents to not seem un-American or unintelligent in their counter-arguments.

But Lincoln also knew when not to say anything.

On several occasions, he declined to make statements in extemporaneous situations, such as times when he was ill-prepared or when events were sensitive politically.

Some of his best work wasn’t behind a podium, though – a lot of it was done around a table with his subordinates, constituents, and foes.

Judge Joseph Mills had once been skeptical of Lincoln – before he heard him talk.

Mills and Governor Alexander Randall of Wisconsin were invited by Lincoln one evening to the White House to discuss the role of slave emancipation in the war.

Mills was reportedly overwhelmed by Lincoln’s “transparent honesty” and the depth of his convictions:

“As I heard a vindication of his policy from his own lips, I could not but feel that his mind grew in stature like his body, & that I stood in the presence of the great guiding intellect of the age. His confidence in the justice of the Union cause could not but inspire me with confidence.”[i]

The results?

  • Lincoln inspired and persuaded millions of Americans to action with his speeches that were often reprinted in newspapers.
  • The power of his persuasive ability cannot be underestimated; Lincoln almost always got his way with Congress, the American people, foreign governments, or his subordinates.
  • The Gettysburg Address, about two minutes long, immediately followed an extremely long speech by the great orator, Edward Everett, who wrote to Lincoln:  “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

The lesson?

Excellent verbal ability can be learned.   You can do everything from read books on the subject to hiring a personal coach.  Do not underestimate its power.  Also, good words are the result of good thoughts beforehand.

Here are even more reasons why you need to learn it:  “Every Entrepreneur Needs to Master Public Speaking,” by Martin Zwilling at

[i] Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005-10-25). Team of Rivals (p. 651). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


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