That’s Intriguing #98: Lessons From Martin Luther King about NOT Sticking to Your Script

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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August 28 is the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech delivered 50 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Martin Luther King Jr Lincoln Memorial I Have A Dream Speech

Photo via James K. W. Atherton / United Press International

Many people feel King’s inspiring address was one of the greatest speeches given in the 20th Century.

It’s studied in classrooms, recited in speech contests, featured on t-shirts, and been praised by Nelson Mandela.

Did you know though … the original script didn’t even contain the words “I have a dream?”

King improvised that memorable phrase on the spot.

As journalist Rick Hampson points out in an August 13, USA TODAY article, King was “about 10 minutes into his talk when he … looked up.

He put aside his text for he had seen – or sensed – an opportunity.

Mahalia Jackson, who had performed earlier, cried out, ‘Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!’”

So he did.

‘I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

 It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

 It is a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:’

 ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

Having raised his eyes, King now had to raise his voice to be heard over the growing applause.

“I have a dream that some day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.’”

As Hampson points out, “It was as if once King was up there, gazing out, he could see a future many that day could not:

 ‘In Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.  I have a dream today.’

To his wife, Coretta, it seemed as if King had forgotten time itself, that his words flowed ‘from some higher place.’

He ended with the last line, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty – we are free at last.’

For a moment, the audience was stunned.  Silence.  Then, a rocking ovation.

Ralph Abernathy, King’s deputy and fellow preacher told him, ‘Leader, you swept today.”

Please look back over King’s inspired message for metaphorical insights into your own speaking style.

When you present to a group of people, do you always stick to your script?

Do you keep your head down and simply follow the prepared text?

Next time you speak … look up.  Raise your head and look into the eyes of your audience.

Instead of simply reading what’s in front of you, ask yourself, “What do THEY need to hear?  What could I say that would elevate them?  What dream could I share that would help them transcend their current circumstances?”

You miss in-the-moment opportunities to truly connect with people when you’re on automatic pilot.

Instead, have the courage of your convictions.  Believe in the beauty of your dreams.

Share your dream, a dream that raises everyone to a higher place.

 A dream that sweeps people up and inspires them to act in alignment with self-evident truths.

When will you be speaking next?

What are you going to do?

Stick to your script?

Or look up, see the opportunity, speak from the heart, and share a message that positively impacts people for years to come?

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