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Communication Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

June 29, 2016
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Communication was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s forte. He is known as one of America’s most influential speakers, even 52 years after he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream…” speech.

During this speech, King captivated his audience with poetic language and thought-provoking ideas. He painted a picture of how life could be instead of focusing on the negative aspects of how life was.

Today’s communicators can learn several public speaking lessons from King’s famous speech, including using positive language, narrowing your focus and using your words to create a visual description.

Using Positive Language Makes Your Communication Clear

Even though violence was common around the country, King advocated the positive outcomes of an equal society, gained through dignity and discipline.

He didn’t accuse others of committing wrongs or encourage people to act violently. King used positive language to make his point of the benefits of taking the high road. Positive language is powerful because it makes your message absolutely clear to your audience.

The Best Communication Has a Narrow Focus

King had one goal with his speech: to encourage public opinion in favor of creating an equal society for all races. Every sentence in his speech works toward this goal by examining positive outcomes of eliminating racism.

By narrowing the focus of a speech, you will stay on point and give your audience the most information about one specific topic.

Use Common Language in Your Communication to Relate to Your Audience

King’s speech was written for the average American, so he used plain language to deliver a clear message that was understood by everyone.

The lesson here is to tailor your speech to your audience.

If you’re presenting to high-level professionals, their common language is bigger, more complex words that are used in their careers. This language will make sense to them and help you gain credibility as a speaker.

However, if you’re presenting to an eighth-grade class, their everyday language is simple words that will be easily understood.

Depending on your audience, adjust your language to ensure your listeners get the most out of your speech.

Use Communication to Paint Pictures with Words

The reason King’s speech was so vivid is because he included colorful language and used his words to paint a picture in the minds of listeners. King used metaphors throughout the entire speech, bringing simple sentences to life. A few examples include:

  • Comparing the Declaration of Independence, in which every American is guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to a bad check that African-American’s attempted to cash, but was returned due to insufficient funds.
  • Comparing segregation to a dark and desolate valley, and comparing racial justice to a sunlit path.
  • Comparing the desire for freedom as a thirst, and comparing the road of violent actions to “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

A well-crafted comparison can liven up your presentation and help your audience understand the point you’re trying to make.

These are just a few of the communication lessons that Martin Luther King Jr. taught us through his memorable speech. Are there others you can think of?

If you’re interested in honing your public speaking skills when talking with the media, contact us.

Photo credit: caboindex

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