Four Minute Men

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During World War I, the Four Minute Men program helped mobilize public opinion; it was a division of the Federal Committee on Public Information in June 1917. The Four Minute Men were local volunteers who spoke at public gatherings, fairs, vaudevilles and motion picture houses for four minutes. Speakers received material from which to prepare speeches. Speeches combated adverse publicity and German propaganda, supported fund drives, called for support of the Red Cross and the YMCA, and promoted Liberty Loans, food conservation, and victory gardens. The program ended a few weeks after the war ended in 1918. enrolled 75 thousand men in its program. In 18 months they gave 1,555,000 speeches to 134,000,000 people at a cost to the government of only $140,000.

General Suggestions to Speakers

  • The speech must not be longer than four minutes, which means there is no time for a single wasted word.
  • Speakers should go over their speech time and time again until the ideas are firmly fixed in their mind and can not be forgotten. This does not mean that the speech needs to be written out and committed, although most speakers, especially when limited in time, do best to commit.
  • Divide your speech carefully into certain divisions, say 15 seconds for final appeal; 45 seconds to describe the bond; 15 seconds for opening words, etc., etc. Any plan is better than none, and it can be amended every day in the light of experience.
  • There never was a speech yet that couldn't be improved. Never be satisfied with success. Aim to be more successful, and still more successful. So keep your eyes open. Read all the papers every day, to find a new slogan, or a new phraseology, or a new idea to replace something you have in your speech. For instance, the editorial page of the Chicago Herald of May 19 is crammed full of good ideas and phrases. Most of the article is a little above the average audience, but if the ideas are good, you should plan carefully to bring them into the experience of your auditors. There is one sentence which says, "No country was ever saved by the other fellow; it must be done by you, by a hundred million yous, or it will not be done at all." Or again, Secretary McAdoo says, "Every dollar invested in the Liberty Loan is a real blow for liberty, a blow against the militaristic system which would strangle the freedom of the world," and so on. Both the Tribune and the Examiner, besides the Herald, contain President Wilson's address to the nation in connection with the draft registration. The latter part is very suggestive and can be used effectively. Try slogans like "Earn the right to say, I helped to win the war," and "This is a Loyalty Bond as well as a Liberty Bond," or "A cause that is worth living for is worth dying for, and a cause that is worth dying for is worth fighting for." Conceive of your speech as a mosaic made up of five or six hundred words, each one of which has its function.
  • Get your friends to criticize you pitilessly. We all want to do our best and naturally like to be praised, but there is nothing so dangerous as "josh" and "jolly." Let your friends know that you want ruthless criticism. If their criticism isn't sound, you can reject it. If it is sound, wouldn't you be foolish to reject it?
  • Be sure to prepare very carefully your closing appeal, whatever it may be, so that you may not leave your speech hanging in the air.
  • Don't yield to the inspiration of the moment, or to applause to depart from your speech outline. This does not mean that you may not add a word or two, but remember that one can speak only 130, or 140, or 150 words a minute, and if your speech has been carefully prepared to fill four minutes, you can not add anything to your speech without taking away something of serious importance.
  • Cut out "Doing your bit." "Business as usual." "Your country needs you." They are flat and no longer have any force or meaning.
  • Time yourself in advance on every paragraph and remember you are likely to speak somewhat more slowly in public than when you practice in your own room.
  • There are several good ideas and statements in the printed speech recently sent you. Look it up at once.
  • If you come across a new slogan, or a new argument, or a new story, or a new illustration, don't fail to send it to the Committee. We need your help to make the Four-Minute Men the mightiest force for arousing patriotism in the United States.[1]

Further reading

  • Jeanne Graham, "The Four Minute Men: Volunteers for Propaganda." Southern Speech Journal 1966 32(1): 49-57
  • Carol Oukrop, "The Four Minute Men Became National Network during World War I" Journalism Quarterly 1975 52(4): 632-637


  1. General Bulletin, Issues 1-2, Division of Four Minute Men, Committee on Public Information, 1917 - May 22nd, 1917

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