The Power of Word Pictures to Inspire

On Monday, we paid homage to one of the most inspirational leaders and communicators of the 20th century.  A spotlight was shined on his enduring speech, now commonly known as the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

Metaphors when Speaking and StorytellingWhat makes this masterpiece so memorable? The most obvious is Dr. King’s central theme of equality and freedom for all.

These are intangible concepts; you can’t touch, taste or hear them. To make them more concrete and to deepen the emotional connection with them, Dr. King  brilliantly used the metaphors of ‘checks and ‘banks.’

For instance, he sets up his first use of the ‘check’ metaphor with the following words:

“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity…..”

The contrast created by ‘lonely island of poverty’ and ‘vast ocean of material prosperity” underscores the economic despair felt by many.

This is soon followed by two phrases that highlight the feeling that it was time for an equal playing field for all:

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

This equates to the benefits implied by checks and promissory notes – the person who gives these is expected to honor them.

The next thoughts underscore the sacrosanct principles which have not been honored:

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

‘Defaulted’ and “Insufficient funds” tied to “this sacred obligation” highlight the anger, frustration and despondency that are felt when these promises are not kept.

He closes out this ‘monetary metaphor’ on a note of hope:

“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

This is a powerful statement that acknowledges the opportunity for all to whom it is fairly given. He’s saying that it’s time for everyone to have the same chance to benefit from the promise of all that America offers.

The imagery Dr. King created moved a nation to look closer at itself and how it treated all of it’s citizens. The goal of your next presentation may not be to move a country, but you can use the power of metaphor to develop mental pictures that stir the emotions of your audience and inspire them to act on your message.

To view the full version of Dr. King’s speech, click here.

What are your experiences with vivid imagery in speeches? You are invited to leave your thoughts below:


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Speech Lesson from a King ultima modifica: 2015-01-16T15:41:55-05:00 da Michael Davis