Seeing that it is the end of black history month and that I think this may be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, I’m going to tackle this one for my first “critique”. Now understand, that I feel this is more a speech to learn from than to criticize, but hopefully we can all learn a little bit…
1625 words of absolute brilliance. The big thing that I learn from watching this speech over and over is pacing and speed of delivery. Dr. King is not in any hurry. It was in the middle of August and people were dying from the heat but he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Dr King has and amazing vocal quality to his voice but it is his phrasing that gives it his power.
He frequently uses pauses to create effect. At the 3:23 mark he makes an “nsf check” joke and allows the crowd the time to laugh and then a brief pause before continuing. He uses different tempos as he changes in and out of stories (As a side point, this speech is one long story that he paints first of how things are promised and then of how he hopes they will become).
You can see in the last two minutes as he is giving more vivid imagery of his dream that he is picking up the pace a little. I like to do this when building to an important point. You cannot have your speech be one speed and one speed alone. Increasing your tempo is also a great way to allow you to use those pauses more effectively following the faster pace.
Notice also how he restated a few key lines: “I have a dream” and “Let Freedom Ring”. As a speaker you have to leave your audience with something memorable and one way to do that is to call back lines. This gives your audience something easy to remember. Some times you will see a speaker create and anachronym and other times they will use the same word or phrase repeatedly.
In the end, there is not much to add to this speech. You may notice that he used notes, and THAT”S OK. Many people use them as a crutch rather than a support system. Having notes is not an excuse not to prepare but simply a way to keep you on track. He has good eye contact and I have no doubt the people in the back row felt he was talking to them and looking at them. If I were to do anything different, and this is nit picky. I would let the final lines ring and resonate before leaving the lectern. You notice that he says his final lines and quickly exits. This may have been for security reasons, but following moving that many hearts and minds there is a moment of relief and joy that should be enjoyed.
Thank you Dr. King