Even Martin Luther King repeated the same message

Martin Luther King at the 1963 Civil Rights march in Washington DC Photo Public Domain

Martin Luther King at the 1963 Civil Rights march in Washington DC. Public Domain photo from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Plugging away with the same message time after time may sound the obvious way to get your message over. But think how often discussions amongst Liberal Democrats about what should go in a leaflet revolve around coming up with new things to say. Or how when you look through the collection of leaflets from a campaign some people complain, “But they all said the same thing!”.

Likewise, there’s the redoubtable myth that someone often pipes up with about how everyone knows what the Lib Dem position on Brexit is. A claim that is quite spectacularly wrong.

So it is worth remembering just how important repetition is to effective communication.

For that, let’s look at Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech: an amazing piece of oratory and, surely, if you can utter such moving words, you don’t need to repeat them time and again? Well, no – for this is the story of the concluding part of that speech:

He’d been giving versions of that speech in churches and venues all across the country to the point that his advisers were absolutely tired of it and crafted a new speech for the march on the mall. The new one was much more militant, and it has a sharper tone. King gave the beginning of it and you can actually watch in the video where he closes his binder and starts giving from memory the ‘I have a dream’ speech. And his advisers sort of rolled their eyes and were probably thinking, ‘Oh, this again.’ It just serves as a reminder that sometimes it’s the 100th time you say something that people finally start to hear it.
Jeff Nussbaum, speech writer to Joe Biden during the 2008 US Presidential campaign, Politics magazine, August 2009

Of course, often the skill is in coming up with new ways of saying the same things, so that the message carries on gradually seeping through. But when even Martin Luther King had to repeat the same message, it’s a reminder that the rest of us sure do too.


More on how to craft and then use effective political messages can be found in 101 Ways To Win An Election.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.