What’s the secret to moving an audience?

1: The words “I have a dream” were not in the original copy of Martin Luther King’s speech.  

“The sequence that made Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Dream Speech’ the greatest speech of the twentieth century had all been improvised,” writes Carmine Gallo in The Storyteller’s Secret.  

As Martin was reading from his prepared remarks, the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, shouted “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”

“Few people heard the shout,” Carmine writes, “but King did.  And he knew exactly what she meant.  King had used the metaphor in previous speeches, but he had no intention of revisiting it on the mall in Washington.  It was not included in the copy of the speech given to the press.”

What happened next changed history.

“Martin clutched the speaker’s podium, a hand on each side, leaned back, and looked at the throng of 250,000 or more assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial,” remembers Clarence Jones, Martin’s speechwriter.

He “watched as King set aside the prepared remarks,” Carmine writes.  “He knew what would happen next. ‘These people don’t know it yet, but they’re about ready to go to church,’ Clarence whispered to the person next to him.”

“I have a dream…” Martin exclaimed.

2: What are we to make of this incredible story?

When giving a talk, should we “wing it” and freely improvise with whatever comes to mind?

Not so fast, Carmine suggests.

“You may have heard about the ‘10,000-hour rule,’ Carmine states.  “Experts believe it requires about 10,000 hours of practice to be world class in a skill such as playing a sport, mastering music, or performing surgery.”

Turns out the 10,000 rule applies to storytelling and public speaking as well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered more than 2,500 speeches in his lifetime.  For each speech, if we assume two hours of writing and rehearsing, we come to 5,000 hours.  Then, adding the time Martin spent on his high school debate team plus hundred of sermons, he had easily had reached 10,000 hours of practice by August 28, 1963. 

“Inspiration takes practice,” writes Carmine.  “Steve Jobs meticulously rehearsed every keynote for weeks ahead of his famous product launches,” Carmine observes.

When we watch a moving TED talk, we see the finished product.  The 18-minute speech.  

What we don’t see?

The countless hours of preparation and rehearsals required to craft an inspiring story.  “Some famous TED speakers rehearsed their presentation up to 200 times before they delivered it on a TED stage,” writes Carmine.

3: To become a great storyteller we want to take every opportunity to hone our presentation skills.  Ronald Reagan spent decades working in Hollywood prior to being elected President.  As a spokesperson for General Electric Theater, he traveled around the country visiting GE labs and factories while delivering hundreds of speeches to 250,000 GE associates.  

We are also wise to be humble.  “Humility is a trait that most successful storytellers share.  Storytelling requires constant and never-ending trial and error,” Carmine writes.

After television producer Mark Burnett came up with the idea for Survivor, he worked relentlessly on his pitch, using friends as his initial audience.  “At first the pitch came out long-winded and over-complicated,” he recalls in The Storyteller’s Secret.  “As I perfected the pitch, making it faster and more fluid and always exciting, I noticed my dinner companions leaning in to hear each syllable.  Their eyes sparkled.”

After being turned down repeatedly, Mark’s preparation and perseverance paid off when CBS bought into his idea.  

Survivor became the number one reality series of all-time.  

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  Consider a skill or capability I’m really good at.  How many hours have I spent practicing?  What is something at which I want to excel?  Am I willing to put in the necessary hours?  

Action:  Do it.

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