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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

Speaking on script: the loss of engagement in modern speeches

John's events, Storytelling and marketing 1 Comment

This week, I traveled to the United States, where I have now been for several days. As is often my practice in an election year, I have watched some of the political coverage, perhaps even with a bit more interest than usual, due to the controversial nature of the unfolding electoral process.  I should make clear that I enjoy watching politicians speak, not so much from an inherent interest in politics but rather as part of my ongoing study of what makes someone an effective speaker in a public arena. In particular, I like to evaluate how effective an orator appears to be at connecting with the audience. In this … Continue reading

How Leaders Use Personal Stories to Make a Tangible Difference

leadership, Storytelling 1 Comment

The forthcoming book that I referred to in the last post—about how individuals use their personal stories of identity to influence those around them—opens with an example from the career of Barak Obama, a tale that demonstrates how telling his personal stories propelled him to prominence on the US political stage.  My co-author and I thought long and hard about whether or not we should use such a powerful world leader as our initial vignette. On the one hand, we want to emphasize that this is not a book about politicians, or even about people who lead from positions of authority. Our goal was always to write a book for everyone who wants to … Continue reading

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