Sir Winston Churchill was not only a master at using anecdotes; he is also a first class source for them for the rest of us! I've included six below with some examples of where and when you could use them.
Anecdote 1 - for when you feel you've made a good start on something but have a lot left to do
Churchill was once speaking in a church hall that was decorated in a common colour scheme of that era -brown up to shoulder height, then cream up to and including the ceiling. After his speech he calls for questions and a middle-aged woman dressed in country tweeds raises her hand.
She says, 'Mr Churchill, I am a member of the Temperance League, and my local branch has been examining your use of alcohol. Are you aware that, during your lifetime to date you have consumed enough alcohol to fill this hall up to here!' And she stretches her arm dramatically to indicate the brown zone on the wall. 'We want to know what you intend to do about it!'
Churchill looks at the woman, follows her arm to the top of the shoulder-high brown zone, and then slowly allows his gaze to move up through the cream zone to the ceiling. He puffs on his cigar before replying and says, 'So little time, so much to do.'
I have to say I feel like that myself today. We've made a great start on XYZ, but can't rest on our laurels. There's still a lot to do, and very little time in which to do it ......
Anecdote 2 - if you are making a marketing presentation about new packaging
Prior to the disastrous British landing in Norway in March 1940, a proposal was made that the Royal marines should be provided with condoms to protect the ten and a half inch rifle barrels from freezing in Arctic temperatures. A supplier was asked to produce a prototype, and Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, was asked to take a look at them.
First he looks at the box. ' This won't do,' he mutters. Then he looks at one of the condoms. 'Won't do at all,' he growled.
The supplier is perplexed. 'What do you mean?' he asks. 'This will clearly sheath a ten and a half inch barrel'.
'There's no labelling', Churchill says. 'I want a label for every box, every carton, every packet, saying 'British - Size Medium'. If they ever recover one of them, that will show the Nazis who is the master race!'
Which just shows that Churchill fully understood the importance of getting the right message on the packaging, which is exactly why we've relaunched and repackaged 'Product X' ......
Anecdote 3 - for when you are called upon to introduce another speaker
Whilst one of his Socialist opponents was droning on and on in a long-winded Commons debate, Churchill responded by very ostentatiously slumping down in his seat and closing his eyes. Seeing this, the speaker gets very indignant and says, 'Must the right honourable gentleman fall asleep when I am speaking?' To which he receives the memorable reply, 'No, it is purely voluntary'.
I can assure you there is no chance of this happening with our next speaker .......
Anecdote 4 - for when you've been under attack or criticized heavily by the press or your opponents
We tend to accept Churchill unquestioningly as one of the country's greatest leaders, but at times during the war not everyone agreed. In 1942 he was under fierce attack by his opponents, but he responded by saying:
'There was a custom in ancient China that anyone who wished to criticize the emperor had the right to do so, provided he followed it up by committing suicide. Great respect would be paid to his words, and no ulterior motive would be assigned. That seems to me to have been from many points of view a very wise custom, but I certainly would be the last to suggest that it should be made retrospective'.
I would strongly suggest to our friends in the Trade Press that this might be a custom worth introducing ............
Anecdote 5 - for when you are speaking to a large audience and have just received a flattering introduction
Thank you George for that very flattering introduction. I'm reminded of the time Sir Winston Churchill was once waiting to be called on stage to give a speech to a huge crowd. The lady charged with introducing him leans over and asks, 'Doesn't it thrill you Mr. Churchill, to see all those people out there who came just to listen to you?'
To which he replies, 'It is very flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big'.
Anecdote 6 - for when you have you have two thorny problems to deal with, and are going to concentrate on one before turning to the other
During the wartime coalition, Churchill had to offer jobs to some of his political opponents, and quietly 'sidelined' many of them by giving them fairly pointless jobs. One of these jobs was the Lord Privy Seal, whose responsibilities involved supervising state papers.
One day the Lord Privy Seal sends an aide to get Churchill's signature, and the young man tracks down the Prime Minister by detecting clouds of cigar smoke billowing from under the door of one of the cubicles in the House of Commons lavatory. 'Prime Minister', the aide says, 'the Lord Privy Seal requires your signature on an important document'
Annoyed at being bothered by a man he particularly dislikes, he replies 'Tell the Lord Privy Seal that I am sealed in my privy'. (NB: for non-British readers, the word 'privy' is an old-fashioned term for a toilet) There's a pause, and he adds, 'And I can only deal with one shit at a time'.
I must admit I feel a little like that today. We have two thorny problems to deal with but we don't have the resources to handle both at once. So today I'm going to explain how - and why - I've prioritized them, and which we're going to tackle first ......