The Power of Public Speaking: Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr.
As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches in the United States, we remember the legacy of a man who led the Civil Rights Movement using the power of his words. His iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is consistently ranked as one of the most change provoking speeches of the twentieth century. Dr. King’s ability to shift hearts and minds by effective dialogue is testament to the profound impact public speaking can have on an audience.
As his speech shows, powerful delivery is essential for the successful conveyance of any idea, product or service. Whether it’s a conference, presentation or broadcast interview, here are four ways to be an effective public speaker:
Positive language can be powerful because it invokes a feeling of inspiration in a message and gives your audience a promise of a better future. In “I Have a Dream,” Dr. King used positivity to motivate change:
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
By understanding your audience and their values and goals, you can create a strong bond with them. Determine what you have in common and create a sense of unity and purpose. Dr. King made a direct connection with his audience by highlighting two values most revered by a nation as a whole – freedom and religion:
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Determine the foundation of your message and use a simple key phrase or word throughout to drive home your point. This allows for you to make your position clear so the audience can easily follow along. Consider how repeated use of the phrase “I have a dream” was delivered to tell the audience exactly what their shared mission was:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Be sure to have excellent posture and project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm, not the throat. This ensures that your voice is grounded, which allows you to project without straining or becoming hoarse. Silence can also be equally as important. Be sure to take long pauses, and avoid junk words like “um”, “ah”, or “like.” Dr. King harnessed his experience as a preacher to bring rich tone and steadiness to his speech. He spoke slow and exerted confidence and intelligence on the issues he addressed.
By Jordan Brueckner
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