PR Connections

A PR Lesson from MLK

Martin Luther King Jr.  was a charismatic activist during the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He used nonviolent methods following Gandhi’s teachings in his efforts toward the Civil Rights Movement. MLK is most famous for his powerful speeches that gave many people inspiration and courage during that time. Because MLK Day was yesterday, I feel that it is appropriate to reflect on what we have learned from him regarding speech writing and presentations.

First, reflect on his most famous and visionary speech, “I Have A Dream.”

Lesson 1- It’s Ok To Wing It Sometimes

You may be surprised that MLK didn’t go exactly with the planned speech script. Yes, he winged it. According to Business Insider, the speech composed of various remarks from a number of speeches King delivered at other times. The most memorable section of the speech was the most unplanned part.

This teaches us that it is ok to go with your gut despite people’s feedback. You are the one on stage, so if you feel uncomfortable with the original plan, change the direction of your presentation. If you don’t believe in what you are saying, your audience will know which will hurt your credibility.

Lesson 2- Back Up Plans Are Essential

It never hurts to have a backup plan. If you are speaking about a specific topic, you should have a list of content relating to the topic that you are well rehearsed in. You should be able to deliver these aspects of the speech or presentation at any moment. This will allow you to alter your presentation to your audience.

Lesson 3- Study The Audience

Usually, it is pretty easy to gauge whether you are keeping your audience’s attention (blank stares, playing on cellphones, falling asleep). If this is the case, change the direction of your speech or interact with the audience. You can interact with the audience by asking questions. This is another strategy that you can you can use to help choose the direction of your presentation/speech.


After analyzing the speech, PR Daily found some lessons for speechwriters to learn from. Here are some writing tactics for speeches.

Lesson 4- Emphasize Important Phrases Through Repetition

Repeating words at the beginning of each clause is known as an anaphora. Anaphoras are used to emphasize a rhetorical effect making the phrases more memorable. The phrase “I have a dream” is repeated in eight different sentences, and this phrase serves as the most memorable part of his speech.

Lesson 5- Use Theme Words

Repetition can also be helpful for keywords in a speech. MLK represents peace, equality, and freedom. Repeating words that support his message emphasize the overall message of the speech. These words are known as “theme words.”

In MLK’s “I Have a Dream,” speech the most commonly used noun was “freedom” (used 20 times.)  Freedom was one of the primary themes of the speech.

Here are some other repeated words that can serve as themes for his speech:

  • justice (8 times) and injustice (3 times)
  • dream (11 times)

Even in 2012, we can learn from great leaders from the past.


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