A Motivational Strategy of Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln

Surely you know the importance of letting your stories sell your messages. However, there are also some other very effective ways to get your audience to take action. Below are three ways including one  regularly used by Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln.

1. Most People

The words “most people” go a very long way in influencing audiences. People like to feel important and do not want to be average. When you say the words “most people” the audience members think, “I don’t want or need to be like most people. Whatever he says next may give me an edge!” For example, I can say,

When it comes to their dreams, most people live their lives on get set. That is, they take their marks, get set, and never go.

 This is a very simple truth but I find many people coming up to me after my speech saying that they are guilty of living on “get set” and they do not want to end up like everyone else. I have heard many of the best speakers in the world use these two words, and they have been extremely effective in making a difference.

2. The “If…then” statement

Another way to influence people is to use an “If…then” statement. Here are a few examples:

 “If you invest 15% of your income, then you will become a financially independent person upon retirement.”

  “If you change your oil every 3,000 miles, then your car will last for at least 150,000 miles.”

  “If you get caller ID, then you can save precious time.”

 “If you use this kind of statement (If…then), then you will influence many people.”

 In other words, show them the benefits of doing what you want them to do. An “If…then” statement is a fantastic way to sell your point. You can also use these statements to address the fear of loss. Here are a few examples:

 “If you live your life on ‘get set,’ then you will take your dreams, goals, and rich ideas to the grave with you.”

 “If you fail to understand the needs of your audience, then your audience will fail to understand you.”

 “If you do not develop effective communication skills, then you significantly reduce your chances of moving up in your organization.”


3.  The Lincoln and King approach to motivation

 One of the most exciting things for me to do as a speaker is to read, and in some cases listen to historical figures that have had a great influence on our world. Two of the speakers I love to study are Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and both of them regularly used a motivational strategy that I call the Back- from-the- Future approach.

 The Back-from-the-Future approach follows this 3-step sequence:

  1.  It moves you mentally into the future
  2. It shows you what those future historians will say about you (based on your present actions)
  3. It gives you a choice to change your path  

 In other words, it forecasts how you will go down in history. Put into this new context, our actions may become clearer as we see the larger picture. Take a look at a few examples from Abraham Lincoln.

Prior to signing the Emancipation proclamation he stated,

If my name ever goes into history, it will be for this act.


  • In a letter reaching out to Democrats that were against the Civil War and essentially against Lincoln’s idea of utilizing blacks in the Union Army, he appealed to the future and wrote,

…there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.

 What Lincoln did in this letter, and in several speeches, was to get his audiences to move beyond the present moment and to understand how they would be viewed by future generations. These kinds of letters and speeches were effective, because most people did not want to be viewed as a bottleneck on the road to progress. Who wants to go down in history as having a “malignant heart?” 

Now let us take a look at a couple of examples from Dr. King’s speeches:

 When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at Oslo University in Norway, he spoke of the courageous men and women of the Civil Rights movement by stating,

…when the years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live, men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization, because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

 When kicking off a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King spoke to thousands of expectant people and claimed,

You will be the people that will light a new chapter in the history books of our nation.

 These speeches again appealed to how the current generation would be viewed by future generations and they inspired people around the globe to become part of the civil rights movement.

 Even though we may not speak on behalf of a large movement or as the President of the United States, we can still utilize this back-from-the-future strategy to get our audiences to take action. If you are speaking on the negative effects of procrastination, then you can use this strategy to make people feel the regret of not accomplishing the things they know they were put on earth to do and you can show how others would view them. I know this may seem harsh, but please remember that you will eventually bring the audience members back to the present and give them complete control over changing their future reality.

Final thoughts:

 If you give these strategies a try, then you’ll be surprised at how often you get your audience to take action on your message. Look familiar?

Craig Valentine

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