Become a better communicator by analyzing MLK’s “I have a dream” speech

The PR Wars “Comms 101″ segment recognizes core communication principles to help you become a better communicator.

Anaphora is a Greek rhetorical device to help you in your speech writing.  The technique has been used in some of the greatest speeches in history.

Anaphora is the repetition of words at the beginning of a series of sentences or phrases.  It creates an emphasis for your communication. It makes your speech more memorable. Think of Anaphora as branding your speech.

Perhaps, the most famous modern use of Anaphora is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.  He began a series of paragraphs with the words, “I have a dream.” It burned into the consciousness of both America and the world. It is also a textbook example of an Anaphora.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

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.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

In this particular speech, it was not the only time that Dr. King used the rhetorical technique of Anaphora. In the same speech, he also began a series of paragraphs with the phrase, “Let freedom ring.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Dr. King used the Anaphora technique a third time in the speech, by repeating the phrase “with this faith.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

So, there you have it. Anaphora.  It is a rhetorical device to make your speech writing more memorable. To make your speech writing more effective. To make your speech writing more impactful.  

To learn more about improving your speech writing, listen to the PR Wars Podcast: Writing powerful speeches.

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