When we are working on a speech, we want to connect with the audience; thus we like to include metaphors that will resonate with them. You don't have to struggle, but come up with good metaphors from your experience. You can speak to that from the heart since you have experienced it. You will find that it resonates with the audience than using metaphors that were not part of your experience.
One of the most powerful metaphor that Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK) used in his "I Have a Dream" speech had to do with the promissory note that African Americans have not been able to cash due to "insufficient funds"; hence, why they have come to March on Washington and beyond till that check is cashed.
But did you ever wonder how did he come up with that pointed metaphor? Well, I finally got the answer to this from reading the excellent book Behind The Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly. Jones should know since he helped MLK with the speech.
Here is how that metaphor made it into the speech. It had to do with MLK being jailed in Birmingham, Alabama city jail in the spring of 1963. MLK used that time in jail to write without any distraction which came to be known as "Letters from a Birmingham Jail."
But there was another problem that could have hurt his standing as a leader of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement if it was not resolved quickly. It had to do with many young men from the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) who were also jailed from protesting. The SCLC was getting a lot of heat from parents whose children were jailed. Also, MLK was getting a bad press from the letter written by the white clergy about the negatives of such kind of protests. The youngest of the jailed protesters had to be bailed out immediately before it tarnished MLK's reputation and hurt the movement.
But where to come up with the bail money? The movement did not have the money that would be needed to free many young protesters.
Through the help of actor Harry Belafonte, Jones was connected to Nelson Rockefeller's speechwriter, Hugh Morrow, who informed Jones that the Rockefeller family would like to help Dr. King.
Jones soon met with Nelson Rockefeller and Hugh Morrow at a Chase Manhattan Bank on a Saturday when banks are usually closed unless you happened to own one. The banker needed Jones to sign a promissory note for $100,000. The idea of signing this note scared Jones since he had no money to pay back. But he signed it anyway on the urging of Nelson Rockefeller who said, "You don't need to worry about it." After everything was worked out with the youngest of the protesters, Jones received an envelope a few days later from a messenger marked "Personal and Confidential." Jones opened it and saw the promissory note that he had signed with a red rubber stamp on it saying, "PAID."
This gave Jones the idea to include that in MLK's speech that indicated that they had come to Washington D.C. to finally cash the check that they have been given by the government. Here is what MLK said in his speech:
"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far 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."
Now, this was the process that resulted in this powerful metaphor making it into one of the greatest speeches ever given. But you can also come up with an effective metaphor by simply observing and reflecting on your experience. And if you do that, then your speech can be both memorable but inspirational.
Jay Oza is a writer, speaker, executive coach. He makes people thrive on high stakes stage whether ii is job interviews, sales presentation or an important speech. He is the author of the book Winning Speech Moments: How to Achieve Your Objective with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. In addition he was recognized with an award from Hire Heroes USA for his volunteer work with military veterans and their spouses. coaching them get good high-paying jobs transitioning from military to civilian life.
Please download the speech checklist and the speech workbook to help you with your next high stakes speech. You can get more information at www.winningspeechmoments.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-847-9877. If you have a high stakes event coming, contact him right away. It could be the difference between winning and losing.