Its 1917 and Uncle Sam has a problem.
The US is involved in a war that the population doesn't know or care about. The challenge for the government is to get support from the people. But the problem is;
How do you reach and influence a fractured audience who are very different geographically and ideologically?
The President at the time Woodrow Wilson knew that he needed some way of speaking to people in their language, a way of framing the problem in ways that that audience understood and a way of doing that while delivering a consistent and effective message.
No one person could possibly meet the sheer numbers of the audience that Wilson needed. But no central organisation could tailor a message that would effectively reach a community.
A message delivered a hundred ways - in four minutes
This started the establishment of the "Four Minute Men". A group of volunteers that gave four-minute speeches across the country. Between 1917 and 1918 the Four Minute Men gave nearly 7.5 million speeches in over 5200 communities. One reason for the speeches' length was that these speeches were given anywhere people gathered: cinemas, theatres, grocery stores, restaurants - anywhere with an audience.
Topics for the speeches were broadly set by the government but each man was encouraged to make their own message their own way. They were encouraged to listen to locals, read local newspapers and go to local events to find inspiration for better influencing their audience.
Trusted local figures were hired to lend their voices so the audience had someone they knew delivering the message. The men often moved around to different communities to keep the message fresh.
In an age where television and radio were unavailable, where PR was yet to be widely adopted or understood and where almost all our current advertising channels were nonexistent in one way or another there is a lesson in this for modern businesses looking to new channels to achieve results.
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 [memorized], 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.