The making of a perfect speech

What all communicators can learn from the greatest speech in American history.

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On its face, it seems somehow glib to try to draw practical lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 1963.

This speech transcended speechwriting and speech-giving technique. This speech was magic, spiritual, history-making. This speech, and this day, are not about speechwriting.

But King’s legacy is, I’d argue, about communication—the power of a person, with words and ideas, to change history. Without examples like King’s speech, what reason would anyone have for sitting down to write?

So if King’s speech represents the hope that communication—real exchanging of ideas, sharing of reality among disparate human beings—can actually happen, then it’s appropriate to try to understand why this speech was so momentous, and to try to figure out how to make more communications that actually communicate.

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