5 Lessons Dr. King Taught Us About Presentation

By Robert Stitt

This last Monday was a holiday in memory and honor of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people around the world took the time to read, watch, or listen to his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”

Black Enterprise noted that not only was the speech magnificent, but Dr. King was a masterful speaker. They offered five things that we could learn from him if we wanted to create messages with great impact. The following is modified from that Black Enterprise post:

Know Your Audience. Nothing speaks to people more than a presentation that has been personalized. What does your audience want to hear? If you can capture their thoughts and feelings you will have created a masterpiece.

“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.”

Keep it Simple. Explain to the audience why what you have to say is important. Tie it into history and make it relevant. If your audience has to try to figure out your context or reason for speaking, you’ve lost them. Keep it simple and to the point. Tell them what you are saying ties into their lives.

“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.”

Speak, Don’t Read. You may have written your words down, but you should have also practiced it. When you get behind that podium, on that soapbox, or pick up that microphone, it’s time to talk to the people not read from a bunch of pages. Speak from your heart. –

Inspiration. Tell them why what you say matters. How is listening to you or acting on your words going to make a difference? Paint the picture for them. Let them see it in their mind. Dr. King painted very vivid images:

“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.”

Call to Action. What was your purpose? Were you just sharing some general information with a bunch of friends, or did you want people to stand up, take notice, and do something. If you want action, tell them what you want them to do. Dr. King did.

“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.”

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