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Public Speaking & Leadership Lessons of Martin Luther King

On this MLK day we should give pause to remember the brilliance and contribution of the Dr. Martin Luther King. He is a shining example of the best of humanity and the overwhelming power of well developed human communication skills. Without question, MLK is one of the greatest public speakers & leaders of our recent time – if not all time. He lead the world toward a very necessary change and began a progression towards a more just society. This leads me to the obvious question: What made him so successful as a speaker and a leader? [clear]

Practice

Many believe that speaking and leadership are skills we are born with – this can’t be further from the truth. In the case of MLK, he had much practice that yielded him outstanding public speaking & communication skills. Decades as a minister, activist and peace activist he honed the skills that made him a master communicator destined to change the course of history. His example emphasizes the value practice should have to all aspiring speakers of any kind.

Passion

Passion is a critical aspect of communication success. MLK’s passion and zeal for political change couldn’t be fabricated – it has to come from the very core of his being. We could see it in his actions & body language, and hear it in his voice He was an electric and energizing speaker that left us wanting to follow in his footsteps. This passion is a key element you should embrace in your speaking capacities.

Purpose

Much has been written and studied to validate the power of purpose. MLK was the embodiment of a life of purpose driven leadership. He took action on what mattered and went about communicating the positive change and future he envisioned for the world. This is exactly the path of a successful speaker (and person for that matter.)

MLK began a powerful social& political progression that continues today. You too are capable of greatness as a speaker and a leader. Why not rise to it with effective speaking skills and change the world in the ways that matter to you? We may not all change the course of history but we can make a positive contribution to your customers, a non-profit cause or the world at large. If we summon but 1/100th of his skill, capacity and spirit we will be on the right path – regardless of our destination. His reverend life remains an exemplary call to action for us all as speakers and leaders. How will you use practice, passion and purpose to improve your public speaking and leadership skill while honoring the great work of MLK? What is your life mission? How will you use your unique skills and talents and a speaker/leader to get there?

10 thoughts on “Public Speaking & Leadership Lessons of Martin Luther King”

  1. I completely agree with you that passion and purpose are important parts of public speaking. Furthermore, I greatly admire Martin Luther King and everything he accomplished — and wow, what a speaker.

    But, as some of your other posts on here point out, sometimes public speaking skills are needed for work and we might not be passionate about the topic or find it very meaningful. Do you have any tips for someone who is giving a speech that they aren’t passionate about? Do we fake the passion?

    I’ve only ever taken one speech class (in college), and I thought it was really great and fun, and it was cool watching the professor talk (because he was obviously a better speaker than most professors). I feel like I’ve lost some of my learned speaking abilities though, because I haven’t practiced since then. Is there a way to practice speaking skills and leadership skills when they don’t come up very often? Would you just recommend taking a course?

    Thank you for writing about Martin Luther King. Truly one of the greats.

    1. Hello Amanda,

      Thanks for your kind words and your great feedback/questions. =) MLK was a speaker who exuded passion, purpose and leadership skills second to none. Without question his impact on the world is still appreciated today and his message still resonates. Passion should never come from an inauthentic place. It has to arise from our core beliefs. We have to find ways to be passionate about the speeches we are giving and deliver that to our audiences. I’m sure there will be times when you feel this isn’t possible but I have to disagree. If you attempt to think of the positive outcomes of your presentations and speeches it is very hard to approach them with a negative, dispassionate angle. Thinking of the ways we help people with our communications is vital. We can bring that energy to our content no matter how challenging it may seem at first. If after exploring all options in writing and rehearsing our speech we still feel a lack of passion — it may justify changing your subject. I explored this more in a blog post on Authenticity & the Power of You. Give it a read and let me know your comments and questions. Wishing you speaking success!

  2. Daniel McHarden

    I completely agree with you! Martin Luther King was a great man and did a lot for the world that we live in today. From him not only can we learn a lot about the power of public speaking, but how to do it in such a way that we can inspire nations and change the way of human thinking.

    1. Hello Daniel,

      Thanks for your comments and insights! =) I agree that he was a great but I think everyone is capable of amazing things — if we rise to the best version of our infinite capacities. We all have the choice to be a positive influence in our world no matter how small or large. Public speaking skills just ensure that you have the capacity to reach more people and move them to action. Now, if each of us were to take action in our world image how much of a positive impact all of those seemingly small actions might have. Public speaking is one of those critical definitive skills for any successful leader. If you see an issue you want to positively impact – why not try? Use the example of MLK and many other greats and go out and raise your voice. Speak to it! I wish you speaking success!

  3. Practice is essential to be a powerful public speaker. The idea that people are just born with their skill is ridiculous, there are no natural born speakers! I have a tape of some of MLK’s speeches and they are incredible!

    1. Jess,
      Just like the old adage – practice makes perfect. We all can improve this vital skill if we put in the time and effort. I wish you speaking success. Please do keep coming back with questions and comments.

  4. Yolanda Freeman

    I would find it a struggle to get anyone to disagree that MLK was a great public speaker.
    No one will ever be as iconic as Martin Luther King but what is your opinion on the style of Russell Brand? He stood up and made an anti-poverty speech in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 people in London last month.
    Do you like his style or do you see areas for improvement?

    1. Hello Yolanda, MLK is nothing short of an epic communicator and leader. We all can learn from the many lessons of his life work on so many levels. Russell Brand is a very funny comedian and actor whom I respect deeply. I haven’t seen the speech in question but I’m sure it is entertaining.

  5. I love how you have used the principle of the 3 P’s but changed them slightly.
    Martin Luther King continues to be a great speaker and his speeches are still epic — even now. I am in my 30s and hang to every word, now that must be some special speech!
    I truly believe that speeches are remembered when they have something worth listening to in them. Something that by acting upon will improve the life of the person listening. How does one do that?

    1. Laura, Thanks for your kind remarks. I think you hit the nail right on the head. Having a message that moves an audience to action is vital no matter the content. A speech without a message and a call to action goes nowhere. You as the writer and then speaker should be able to condense this message down to a single simple sentence. Do this and you will succeed.

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