‘I Have a Dream’ holds 5 lessons for speechwriters

Rev. King’s stirring address resonates in oratorical circles as well as historical ones.

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“I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most memorable speeches of all time.

Much of the greatness of this speech is tied to its historical context, a topic which goes beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I’ll focus on five key lessons in speechwriting that we can extract from Martin Luther King’s most famous speech (click here to see the transcript).

Lesson 1: Emphasize phrases through repetition at the start of a sentence

Anaphora (repeating words at the beginning of neighboring clauses) is a commonly used rhetorical device. Repeating the words twice sets the pattern, and further repetitions emphasize the pattern and increase the rhetorical effect.

I have a dream” is repeated in eight successive sentences, and is one of the most often cited examples of anaphora in modern rhetoric. But this is just one of eight occurrences of anaphora in this speech. By order of introduction, here are the key phrases:

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