Inspire Audiences Like Martin Luther King Jr.
You have the “floor.” Everyone is waiting for you to speak and share your wisdom. Have you properly prepared for this moment? Do you know what you want to accomplish and how you will do so?
We all do it – we speak in front of others to influence their thinking. It might be a speaking engagement at a conference, a new business pitch, a regular old weekly meeting with your team, or a presentation to your C-suite or client. It might be in front of one, two or 600 people.
Big or small; it all takes preparation. And I learned a great way to do this – a combination between a friend of mine who speaks worldwide on the commodities market and Nancy Duarte who analyzed Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in 1963. It’s the stool structure.
Whether I’m presenting a new idea to a client on our weekly call or doing a keynote in front of 250 people, I take the time to go through this exercise to ensure I’m appropriately structuring and delivering my idea.
The Stool: How do you want to influence the audience?
This isn’t always an easy question to answer, but get it right in one sentence and you’ll be able to keep your talk focused. Summarize your point of view in one sentence.
It’s your stool. And you’ll use it as a thread throughout, returning to the seat of the stool to punctuate your point.
King’s perspective sentence might have been:
“The Emancipation Proclamation was signed 100 years ago. But we are still not free….America has defaulted on this promissory note. America has defaulted on this check. A check that has been marked insufficient funds.”
Start with your big idea – the top of the stool.
The Three Legs: Points that lead to the big idea
Identify the three items that will help you get to the finish line.These are the legs of your stool. As you hit each leg of the stool, you’ll return to the top.
King’s three points might be:
- We will not remain content. We’ll do something about it.
- We will not be bitter or full of hatred – conduct ourselves with dignity and discipline. Meet physical force with soul force. Do not distrust all white people. There are many here today.
- This situation can and will be changed. It’s only the beginning. We will not wallow in despair. You have come from suffering.
Take us to the New Bliss
Now Nancy Duarte is going to help us hit it out of the park. She coaches storytellers to share the New Bliss – the outcome. What happens when we all follow your perspective? There is an outcome that is going to make our lives better in some way. Brian Conlin mentioned this last week in his post Seven Tips to Ignite Audiences With Powerful Ideas, but let’s look at specifics.
King takes us from the “quicksands of racial injustice” to the “sunlit path of racial justice.” From the “lonely island of poverty” to “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
And he goes back and forth, rhythmically taking us from the what is to the what could be.
And he culminates with the most famous, the most touching New Bliss ever:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s dream. All men are created equally. …Sons of slaves and sons of slaveowners will sit down. Where people will not be judged by color of skin but content of character.”
Call to action
You’ve got your audience now in your hand. They are with you. What should they do next? It’s time for your call to action.
“Transform the world, work together, play together, struggle together to be free. Let freedom ring.”
You can see the full speech here. It’s interesting to listen to again with this new perspective.
Applying this to your next presentation
The messages I deliver on a day to day basis don’t come close to the significance of King’s. Yours may, or may not. I’m not trying to compare substance of message. What I want to do is learn from someone who started a movement.
You have a perspective you hold dear and something is at stake. Deliver it with the care and passion that it deserves. Believe in your message, and know it inside out. Practice at home and in front of the mirror. Speak deliberately and not too fast, punctuating words and using inflection. Remember the seat of the stool and tie back into it so your audience stays on track. And leave them with that final call to action. Why should they care and what should they do next?
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