martin luther king - 50 years on

The power of language

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. changing the course of history with his inspirational speech to some 250,000 protesters at the Lincoln Memorial on 28 August 1963.

Dr King's speech has become one of the most famous of all time and you only have to listen to it once to not only understand why, but to see how it became a milestone in the development of the civil rights movement.

His speech galvanized the movement and remains hailed as one of history's most famous. Dr King spoke with immense power, absolute clarity and total conviction. On the 28th August 1963 the whole world became very clear as to why he spoke and exactly what he wanted.

Every great presentation needs to contain visual and descriptive language and you don't have to examine Dr King's speech too closely to see it is overflowing with visual images in the form of descriptive language and metaphors.

Language can help us to bring our message to life, to connect with our audience and to help them feel what we are saying, not just understand the words intellectually. One of the surest ways to stimulate your audience's imagination and to help them see what you see is through the language you use. The language of imagination uses vivid detailed description that appeals to the senses, emotive vocabulary, strong verbs, adjectives, adverbs and figures of speech.

Here are just a few powerful examples taken from Dr King's famous "I have a dream" speech.

"This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope for millions of negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice"

"It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity"

"100 years later the life of the negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination"

"100 years later the negro lives on a lonely island of poverty, in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity"

"Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood"

"The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges"

"Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality"

If you haven't listened for a while it’s worth checking out again.

Image credit: Flickr


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