Episode 37 – The Persuasive Power of Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

Welcome to the Thirty-Seventh episode of my podcast, The Power of Three. I want to help show you how harnessing the Power of Three can lead to a more fulfilling life, a life that celebrates our differences and our similarities, and accepts that we are part of the great web of life.

In this episode, I will discuss how Martin Luther King managed to persuade so many people.

There are some leaders and speakers that manage to produce words that inspire not only an audience today, but also audiences far into the future. We know many of them well. Lincolns Gettysburg Address, Churchill with his “fight on the beaches”, and Martin Luther King, “I have a dream”. These speeches are analyzed continually to determine the techniques they used to persuade. We can learn a lot from studying these speeches.

On Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, we have another chance to listen to the power of his speeches. His speech, “I have a Dream”, never fails to bring a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. The reasons for this are not too hard to fathom.

Dr. King inspires audiences using ideas that have appealed to people across the ages. Concepts of freedom, equality, and justice strike a chord in most people. These are the concepts that I propose as part of the Power of Three. There are few things as important to people yearning to be free from the yoke of oppression.

Using concepts like these inspire in people a sense of security and comfort and success. There is a certain hypnotic suggestion in these ideas, a sense that the listener associates with a life of fulfillment. When these concepts are repeated throughout the speech, it reinforces the familiarity of the words and the emotions that they evoke. King uses the words freedom and justice repeatedly to reinforce the image of people freed from oppression, people who can seek justice from the nation’s leaders.

Dr King emphasizes the strength of his words with concepts that are familiar to many followers and people around the country. When he says, “I have seen the promised land”, he evokes the images of biblical stories, of Moses and his people finally arriving in the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. This creates a connection between stories that people hear over and over, and the lives of his people. They feel connected with the mystique of those old stories. They can relate to the words and images because their position is very similar.

Sometimes in a speech, saying less is more effective. King does not specifically state that it is a land of plenty, but that is what the subconscious conjures in his audience. A speech can plant the seed and let the mind produce the rest. It is an effective technique that creates a bond between the words and the motivation of the audience. King does not specify what he means by the Promised Land, and each audience member will visualize his own perfect nation. The speaker is not thinking for the audience member, but taking them along on his journey. This allows the audience member to participate fully in the process. It creates a bond between speaker and audience, making them a part of the speech.

The images that King uses conjure the idea of equality, of similarity. This promotes the idea of brotherhood, and unity and community. These are also concepts that bring people together. People who feel that they have something in common with others are far more likely to cooperate with them and work together towards common goals. Here again, King builds on the idea that a common purpose can create a better society, a society in which everyone can flourish. He says that he looks forward to the day when people can join hands, implying a single group rather than groups divided by race or religion.

Another technique he uses is that of metaphor. He uses metaphor to create vivid images of suffering and deprivation. His people have been, in his words, “seared in the flames of withering injustice”, or “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”. He uses these metaphors to create stark differences between the suffering of his people on the one hand and the paradise of freedom on the other. In this way, he encourages people to participate in the process of building a better nation.

Our words as speakers should be used to produce vivid images. They should stimulate the imagination. The audience will take these words with them when they leave. In some cases, the words will live on for decades. Every successful speech builds castles in the air with words. A speech without dramatic ideas will soon be forgotten. This is especially true for speeches in which we try to persuade and to motivate people to take action. Using a connection between powerful words and powerful images strengthens both and motivates people to create better lives.

The techniques used by both Barack Obama and Dr King have a lot in common. It is the result of the particular kind of preaching that happens in African American churches. There is a cadence to the words, a very appealing rhythm. Those words allow you to move in concert with the words, almost as though the audience were singing along with the speaker. That rhythm can change pace quickly, like a song, complete with a chorus. When both Obama and King repeat words, it becomes a melody, a melody that is easy to remember.

In Kings speech, he repeats the words, “I have a dream” several times. A speaker who wants to emphasize an important mantra will do just this. He repeats the phrase throughout his speech. A phrase should be catchy and easy to remember, and not too long. “I have a dream” has a rhythm and a simplicity that appeals to an audience. This is something that people can repeat to themselves, or chant during protests. Just as in protests, repeating a phrase is effective and almost mesmerizing in its ability to get people to work in concert.

Obama does the same thing. He repeats similar words and phrases to imprint them on people’s minds. His words, “Yes we can”, were positive, optimistic words that empowered people and gave them the strength to carry a struggle forward. The same technique can be used by public speakers to motivate their audiences. When speakers like this use pronouns, they refer to “us”, or “we”, rather than “you”. This creates the belief that we are all this together and brings the audience closer to the speaker.

The phrase that Dr King used, “I have a dream”, will always be associated with him in people’s minds. This is important for speakers, because anything that allows people to see you as an authority is useful. Slogans, mantras and chants can elevate a speaker, which is why it is so important to be a published author. It establishes credibility, often because of the title of the book. Obama used a similar technique with, “The Audacity of Hope”, and “Yes, we can”. They will always be a part of those phrases.

King and Obama both use patriotic phrases, or references to history. This shows a bond between the speaker, the audience and the nation in which they live. Symbols like this are particularly effective with people regardless of their political or social affiliation. Techniques like this are also effective in building trust in the speaker and a feeling that the speaker shares common goals and aspirations with his audience.

A good speaker can persuade and motivate an audience by drawing them in to the speech, using emotional language, repetition and rhythm to great effect. Great speakers seem to have a natural ability to do this, to induce a poetic communal feeling. An audience becomes instilled with pride and belonging, which serves to carry the speakers words to a greater audience.

We can do this too, we can get our audience to empathize with us, we can get our audience to visualize our words and create powerful images that live with them. These are the speeches that people remember, the emotional, soothing speeches that fill them with a sense of purpose, a sense of future, a sense that these ideas are important to their lives. In ths same way that Dr King, and Obama and Winston Churchill managed, we can uplift our audience and propel them to a better life.

I encourage you to continue to enhance your life with the Power of Three and search for the best possible life to live.

Until next time, go well my friends.

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