COMM 110 Learning From The Best

Pick a motivational speaker (examples: T.D. Jakes, Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar or a M.L.K., JFK, Ronald Reagan) find a you tube presentation and analyze their persuasive techniques and speaking style, what can you learn from their style? Have they motivated you or others? How?

There are a variety of factors that can influence a speech giving it strength or weakening its message. Most memorable speeches are comprised of specific verbal communication’s elements that allow the orator to deliver his or her message in powerful manner. In the famous speech “I have a Dream”, by Martin Luther King Jr., there are three verbal communications factors that give the speech a memorable message which include: linguistic sensitivity, kinesics, and vocalics.

The first factor which gives strength to King’s speech is his use of linguistic sensitivity. There is nothing complicated in the wording of King’s speech and therefore his message is clear and coherent. But beyond using clear language that all listeners can understand, King also uses inclusive language that is important to all Americans listening (Verderber, Verderber & Deanna, 2010, pg. 59). We see this inclusive language clearly in the passage:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Martin Luther King, 1963)

King has chosen his words wisely as this particular passage is intrinsic to all Americans. The belief that all men being created equally is belief inclusive of all Americans in that it is considered a truth. King cleverly uses this passage to force Americans to face the contradiction of segregation and racism by revealing that if the American dream is a truth based in the equality of man, than this truth must be applied equally amongst all people otherwise it is not truth.

Along with this use of inclusive language, King also uses kinesics to convey his speech with strength. Throughout his speech, King utilizes several forms of nonverbal communication including: gestures, eye contact, and posture. While listening to the speech King’s use gestures such as hand movements work in synchronicity with his points. This same type of communication is also used where his eyes take serious focus when he is uttering the words “I have a dream.” This focused eye contact gives a significant amount of force to the words that he is uttering. At the same time King’s posture is squared and poised with self-confidence. This factor increases the strength of King’s speech by adding even more emphasis to his point (Verderber, Verderber & Deanna, 2010, pg.71).

King’s greatest strength in his speech comes mainly from is vocalic expression. What at first sounds almost monotone, is a speech comprised of various rhythms and tones used to create emphasis and strength for his message. King’s volume rises and falls only slightly but more importantly the intonation that King uses provides the listener with slight varying degrees of tone which are subtle but add emphasis where needed. This intonation combined with slight variations in volume creates a powerful emphasis on particular phrases such as “I have a dream.” This use of vocalics creates dramatic pauses that add to the force of the speech which is evidenced by the crowd’s applause at the end of these pauses (Verderber, Verderber & Deanna, 2010, pg. 72).

The strength of King’s speech is overwhelming and there is little weakness in it. If any weakness has occurred it was in his use of figurative and metaphorical language. While the speech is strong there is significant use of metaphor and simile that could create confusion in the common listener of the time. King’s use of these rhetorical devices is perhaps more than necessary. For example:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land (Martin Luther King, 1963).

King’s figurative language might not have been overlooked so easily if not for the strength of the rest of his speech.  The reality of this is evidenced by the fact that this part of his speech is less memorable than the latter parts. Still, as a weakness, this fact does not detract from the memorability of the speech.

“I have a Dream” is perhaps one of the single greatest speeches uttered in the name of civil rights. King’s ability to convey his vision through specific verbal and nonverbal communication’s elements shows us that speeches are not just about being coherent but there is strategy in the use of tone and volume. As one of the most motivating speeches ever delivered, almost everyone remembers the speech and identifies with it due to the strength of King’s voice.


Verderber, K. S., Verderber, R. F., & Deanna, D. S. (2010). Communicate. (13 ed., p. 59,69,72). Boston: Wadsworth.

Martin Luther King’s Address at March on Washington August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.