“I have a dream” – Who does not know that sentence? Who does not know that famous speech from Martin Luther King? But… who does know that Martin Luther King initially did not plan to use that section of his speech? The speech was delivered, on August 28th 1963, to an estimated 250,000 people who came to Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights. Everybody in the audience at that time had a dream. In fact, everyone has a dream. Among the ten speakers on that day, Martin Luther King was the last one. Dr. King had previously given several versions of that speech, especially the section on the dream. For instance, Rocky Mount in November 1962, Detroit in June 1963; and he had used dreams analogy for the past 3 years (1960-1963). On that specific day, August 28th 1963, he was not planning to use that section until another speaker urged him to talk “about the dream” ; as a result part of the speech was improvised. It was improvised straight from his heart. The sound system having been damaged before the event, only a small part of the audience did actually hear clearly the full speech, and still it made history. There is a lot to learn from that single story.
Great speeches are rehearsed. There are no great speeches that have not been rehearsed before.
As a speaker you want to rehearse your speech so much that it becomes unconscious, leaving you able to focus on the thread and the intent. This is when you start to really speak from the heart; this is also when you will be able to speak spontaneously. I love that paradox:
The more your rehearse (in the right way), the more you speech will be spontaneous, and a true conversation with your audience.
Yes, a conversation. Even though audience are not often expected to reply with words, they are still engaging in a dialogue with you, and you with them. One of the more common mistakes in public speaking is “not giving time to your audience to say something”, and this gives us speech given in one go where the speaker barely breathes and pauses.
Let’s go back to the speech “Does school kill creativity” and take a moment to re-listen to it -you’re right, use only the audio this time- and note how often the speaker pauses, giving us -the audience- time to respond. You can feel it. It is like a conversation, and the speaker is fully “up-time” tuned up to us -the audience. “Being up-time” is being fully focus to the outside, versus “being down-time” where you focus to the inside, more precisely your internal messages, such as heart beating, hand sweating, feeling of cold, etc. As a speaker you need to develop the ability to do both simultaneously, though “up-time” will be your primary focus, especially during the public interactions; the “down-time” periods are more brief checkpoints during the interaction, and also something you develop during your preparation.
Speeches are not just words on pieces of paper or scripts… speeches are living organisms, and what makes a great speech is the combination as a system of: the speaker, the speech, the audience, the context.
There is not one and unique version of Dr. Martin Luther King. There are several ones; all slightly different in order of content, actual content of a paragraph, actual use of repetition; and all similar in their intention; but one only is truly a great speech. You could say the same for a lecture, a training, en encounter, any type of public interaction. And one element of preparation is going to be about understanding and listening to your audience.
OK, I hear you; first you need to have an audience, and you need to make sure it stays with you for the full length of your speech. For me this is all about creating curiosity, creating enough curiosity to… Right, let’s focus on this tomorrow with our next episode, “Creating curiosity.”