If you live in America, today is the anniversary of that speech.
On 28th August, 1963, Martin Luther King spoke to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
I have a dream.
He had not intended to use that line – “I have a dream”. Along with the marchers, he had been singing gospel songs among other things as they marched. A powerful gospel singer and civil rights support, Mahalia Jackson had called to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
And he told them about his dream – impromptu.
In 1999 this speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century, and at least part of it was impromptu!!
He had used the dream before in several speeches, so it wasn’t entirely impromptu, but chosen from his repertoire of “things that work”. Do you have a repertoire of “things that work”?
There had been several versions of the speech prepared beforehand, but none of them was used in its entirety.
The structure of the speech is graceful and powerful. I love Nancy Duarte‘s study of it.
He used the gospel connection well. He used geographical reference well. He used the American iconic moments of history well.
The clever rhetoric and speech structure are obvious.
The two moments that stand out for me are two examples of rhetoric. He resonated with lists and particularly anaphora, I think. The first was when he used “now is the time …” Suddenly what was merely a speech, now had passion. There was genuine feeling in his voice. The second was just before he introduced “I have a dream”. He had listed all the parts of the country his audience would return to, and it was as if he suddenly really connected with his audience. He left the script with his eyes and they continued to scan the audience. Suddenly the whole rhythm and pitch and pace of his speech changed. It returned but his face had changed. He felt somehow free.
What makes you feel free to connect with your audience – that you have the power to move them? We all have it.