On Monday we celebrated the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Affectionately known throughout the world as a civil rights leader and activist, Dr. King delivered his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” more than 50 years ago. Yet we can all still learn a few things from his outstanding communication techniques. Below are a few tips to master your presentation.
1. Research your audience beforehand – Who is your audience? What do they do they want? Is there something keeping them up at night? Make your message more powerful by using words that describe what they are experiencing at the moment.
“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest—quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
2. Connect the dots for people – Let your audience know why the topic is important. Dr. King began his speech with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863.
“One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
3. Be authentic and speak with passion – Avoid reading your speech word for word or from note cards and give your speech from the heart.
4. Inspire your audience by giving them a vision for the future – The foundation of Dr. King’s speech was created around his vision for the future. His words were beyond powerful and painted a vivid picture of what life could be like if we embraced nonviolent principles toward social change.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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 one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream today.”
5. Close your speech with a powerful call to action or change – What’s the point of giving a presentation, if you’re not empowering people to change or take action?
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”