Need Power in Your Speech? A Quick Lesson from MLK Jr.

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, I always reflect a bit on his “I have a dream” speech and how that speech left its mark on our nation. I feel a little guilt because I don’t want my passion for a good speech to eclipse King’s continuing call to our nation.  That said, have you ever thought about the power of King’s “I have a dream” speech?  

Among other things, King was a dynamic and powerful presenter.  Most people don’t feel they hold a whisper of a chance to match King’s passion.  At the same time, this speech uses a technique that is available to anyone!

King inspired a mixed audience of 200,000 when he gave this speech in Washington in 1963, and today people recognize the refrain and connect it with his name.  Not many remember the details of the speech, but almost every American, from school child to senior citizen, can connect “I have a dream” with the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King knew his listeners wanted to believe in the hope of justice, but the obstacles were daunting.  History had been ugly on this point.  Yet, King knew he spoke to people with deep convictions; he made a connection between his cause and the deep dreams of his audience for themselves, their children, and their nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. wove a golden thread of America’s promise and the dream of freedom for all.  In the center of the speech, he repeated a golden refrain, “I have a dream…,” finishing the statement each time with concrete images of racial equality and harmony. 

In a song, it’s the refrain that connects the different verses together; it’s the refrain that sticks in our heads.  In King’s speech, it’s the refrain, “I have a dream” that rings with passion in our nation even today.  We remember it, and it still has power to move us.  This is part of King’s legacy.

As I honor Martin Luther King Jr. today, I am well aware that his example of an outstanding orator is not the most important gift he gave to our nation.  Even so, as a professional speaker and speech coach, I can’t help but appreciate this gift. 

Chances are that your next business presentation won’t be about something as important as racial justice.  Even so, you could make your point with concrete images that touch the priorities of your audience.  You could create a refrain that rings in their ears as they leave the room.  Your speech, while it might not change a nation, could be memorable.  It could make a difference in your sphere of the world.  That’s worth a little effort.  What is your refrain? 


3 Responses to Need Power in Your Speech? A Quick Lesson from MLK Jr.

  1. Becky Hooman says:

    I love the analogy of a repeated phrase to the refrain of a song. It sounds so much more inviting than “repeat your core phrase throughout the presentation. Thinking of it as a song gives it a beauty in my mind, and it makes perfect sense to repeat the refrain!

  2. Linda Friedman says:

    I remember this song….from those family gatherings.
    A classic…….sung in harmony… it reached deep into our being. The words from the song rang through out the speech….ie… Now is the time.

    I had a dream, dear
    You had one, too
    Mine was the best dream, because it was of you.
    …….….Now is the time
    You tell me your dream
    And I’ll tell you mine

  3. Tom Volkar says:

    Thank you for this valuable lesson. Dr. King’s words were echoing through my mind all the way through while reading your post. He used a very valuable technique and used it well while inspiring to heights seldom reached before. It gave me a lift just to recall how he lifted many others.

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