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The stories we shape will also shape us

John's reflections, leadership, Speaking, Storytelling Leave a comment

This week, one of my favorite reflections about storytelling—from the recently departed British novelist Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)—came to mind: “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”  While I find Pratchett’s words extremely interesting and thought-provoking, I cannot say that I agree with them completely. Whenever I am asked if we shape our stories, or if our stories shape us, I respond that I see it as a phenomenon that happens in both directions. More than “we shape our stories” or “our stories shape us”, I find that there is a synergy, even a symbiosis, between the stories and the teller. In the best cases, each one helps the … Continue reading

Our tightly scripted modern political discourse

Speaking Leave a comment

This week, I had planned to write something more about Martin Luther King, a reflection on how he progressed as a leader by learning to speak from the heart around a few core themes. Rather than using a teleprompter or reading from a paper, his best moments—instances of true personal growth and impact on his audiences—came when he deviated from “the script” and let his thoughts run free.  However, I then received further information that showed to what extent how presidential candidates and public officials have become so tightly controlled and scripted in what they say these days. The incident that a friend pointed out to me—and the related videos I subsequently found—involve two former Republican … Continue reading

How Martin Luther King Jr. came to tell the world about his dream

Speaking, Storytelling Leave a comment

As I wrote last time, if Martin Luther King had stuck to his script for the March on Washington in 1963, the audience—and the rest of the world—might never have discovered his dream. Here is how it happened:  The crowd waiting in the warm sun on August 13th was by far the largest Dr King had ever addressed: a quarter-million people stood before him as he strode toward the stage at the Lincoln Memorial. They had come there from near and far, for the March on Washington, for Jobs and Justice, and to listen to King’s much anticipated speech.   King began slowly and deliberately, scanning his notes and reciting his well-rehearsed … Continue reading

How Martin Luther King prepared himself to improvise

leadership, Speaking Leave a comment

Recently, as I was reading through some notes I took about Martin Luther King during my doctoral study, I was reminded that much of his prowess as an orator was crafted in moments of creative spontaneity. Dr King was indeed a master of finding inspiration in the moment, often reacting to an audience with fervor and enthusiasm, altering his words and his voice to fit the situation.  At the same time, it would be a mistake to underestimate the role of preparation and deliberate practice in Dr King’s success. He forged himself as a leader and speaker through a dynamic combination of preparation and improvisation. In fact, it was his many hours of mindful … Continue reading

The best speeches have elements of improvisation

John's reflections, Speaking Leave a comment

After last week’s post, I did some more reading about Barack Obama’s use of the teleprompter. It turns out that the president almost never speaks in public without his favorite tool, and that he has drawn considerable criticism because of it. Many observers view the use of such devices as a sign of inauthenticity and insincerity, an indication that handlers and speechwriters are always telling him what to say. During the 2012 primary campaign, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was so annoyed with Obama’s reading of his speeches that she made a formal pledge never to use a teleprompter. Furthermore, she proclaimed that if she ever did make it to the White … Continue reading

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