Martin Luther King Jr., a fierce advocate for justice in the late 1950s and 1960s, was a powerful speaker.
King stood before a huge crowd and told the nation of his dream that 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.” He wrote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and he challenged Americans to “learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
His speeches, letters and sermons connected with people around the world and, decades later, King’s thoughts and ideas still echo in classrooms, churches and at protests.
If you have a message you believe in, it’s worth asking how you might be able to say it in such a powerful way, like King did, that we all remember it more than a half-century later.
Public speaking isn’t easy. So we asked Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker — a talented public speaker who has introduced Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to crowds, given the commencement address at his alma mater, Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, and spoken at local Black Lives Matter protests — how he does it.
Walker had these six tips for kids who want to use their voice.
1. Practice, practice, practice
“Not many people are naturally gifted at public speaking. It is a skill that can be developed over time, and that takes a lot of hard work and determination. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a lot of experience. Start out practicing to yourself in a mirror. Work on eye contact, rhythm and inflection. Use every public speaking opportunity as a chance for ‘live-action,’ practice.”
2. Connect with your audience
“Don’t just talk to people. Remember, your speech is for your listeners, which in a way, means it is about them, and not you. It’s important to know your audience and cater your presentation in a way that it would be beneficial to your audience. I often ask myself, is my purpose to inform, inspire, or present an idea? Usually, it’s a combination. Find a way to make the issue or topic relatable for listeners and volunteers. I’ve found that telling a story is the best way to get your point across.”
3. Know when to uplift others
“It’s important to be well-informed, but it’s also important to understand your limitations. Sharing space and allowing those who may have a direct experience with an issue or are more knowledgeable is a difficult boundary to learn. Some topics aren’t our duty to speak on; rather we must use our privilege to be allies and advocates. Be passionate about other people’s experiences just as much as your own.”
4. Be honest and have conviction
“Always speak from your heart and with your whole chest. If you believe in something, it’s OK to let others know. Be courageous enough to tell hard truths. The words you say reflect on who you are and words carry power. The best leaders know how to deliver truth, paired with ambitious vision.”
5. You’re your own worst critic
“It’s easy to get discouraged by comparing yourself to others who have more experience. Don’t fall into this trap! Remember, you can and should be your biggest cheerleader. Self-encouragement and positive self-affirmations go a long way. People often miss the mistakes we make in public speaking, but tend to remember the moments when we do well.”
6. Find a mentor or someone you look up to
“Find a mentor that is willing to help you out. Have them critique your speeches and offer feedback. Constructive criticism along with positive affirmations will help you finesse your skills and build confidence. Mentors will support you and help you navigate what can be unfamiliar territory at first but surely can be rewarding.”
08:00AM | Wed, March 03, 2021
11:00AM | Mon, March 01, 2021
11:00AM | Mon, March 01, 2021