Improv, Inspiration, and a Dream

Cary Paul
Category : Improvisation January 21, 2013

We first shared a longer version of this post in 2012 and thought it was worth another run. Today’s post is by Cary Paul, Chief Improv Officer.

Our best moments may come in an instant of inspiration and improvisation.  As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you may be surprised to learn his best-known speech was born in just such an instant.  

One of Dr. King’s speechwriters, Clarence Jones, tells of the history making moment when one of our nation’s greatest communicators set aside his prepared remarks, and looking into the faces of an enormous crowd, uttered that iconic phrase…

“I have a dream….”

On that hot, summer day in 1963, Dr. King went off script¹. Buoyed by the significance of his message, the passion of his audience, and his own brilliant style, Dr. King improvised critical sections of what is now called the “I Have a Dream” speech.

It was a moment of improvisation and inspiration that captured the imagination and the conscience of the American public.

Dr. King created from events, words, and shared experience.  The civil rights leader had spoken of his “Dream” to a crowd of half a million people a few weeks earlier, but it was not part of the draft his young speech writers had prepared for him that day in Washington.

The speech, as drafted, included poignant, compelling words about racial injustice, freedom, and brotherhood.  And yet, when King began to improvise, he utterly seized the moment at hand, and took authenticity to a new level.  His prior experience helped him deliver an improved, more effective message on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The same lessons apply, on the smaller stages of our workplace. At BossaNova, we coach our business clients to apply these lessons of improvisation: to build from their team, from their leaders, from themselves.

In essence, the “I Have a Dream” speech was the ultimate example of “Yes, and…”.  A shining example of how being authentic and in the moment pays huge dividends. Audiences respond to that level of authenticity.

Few of us will likely face the opportunity that Dr. King seized that August day, and yet we can learn from his willingness to build on reservoirs of experience, to set aside anticipated answers, and respond to our own moments in history.

What are you willing to speak passionately about today?

¹ Today’s article was inspired by the article, On Martin Luther King Day, Remembering the First Draft of ‘I Have a Dream,’ published in The Washington Post by Clarence B. Jones on January 16, 2011.

Originally published by BossaNova Consulting Group, Inc.
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Cary Paul

Cary Paul

I just might have the best title of anyone on The Get Real Project team: Chief Improv Officer. I have over 20 years of consulting experience, specializing in process improvement, change management, facilitation and leadership development. __ years ago I took my first improvisational comedy class, which sparked my passion for applying the principles and practices of improv to real-life business challenges. My clients tell me that the custom programs I create produce profound results for leaders needing new perspectives, creative solutions, breakthroughs in communication and teamwork, and a more nimble and energized workforce.

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