Martin Luther King, aka MLK, is acknowledged as a master communicator. His time as a pastor was undoubtedly crucial in mastering his public-facing skills. But his time in philosophy seminars was truly instrumental. We know this because of how closely his oratory talents match the rhetorical theories laid out by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. They are at the core of every speech given by Martin Luther King.
These theories are found in the appropriately titled Rhetoric, which dates to the fourth century B.C. Aristotle embraces his sophist persona to teach the art of persuasion. There are three specific rhetorical methods that Aristotle investigates that will be the focus here, and all were adopted by MLK.
The first approach is word repetition, the straightforward idea of repeating words or phrases you want the audience to focus their attention on. It will usually highlight the topic or thesis of the speech. There is a reason Dr. King included the word freedom at least 20 times in his timeless 'I Have a Dream' oration, one of the most significant of all time.
Metaphor, the next method, is seen well beyond public addresses. It is one of the most utilized devices in all of literature. However, It was Aristotle who first explicitly described this method in rhetoric.
Dr. King applies this technique in speeches throughout his life, but you find it in the 'Dream' speech with dazzling imagery. For example, he proclaims, "we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
The final rhetorical craft explained by Aristotle is the three connecting ideas of logos, pathos, and ethos. Together, they act as a roadmap for organizing any persuasive speech.
Since Aristotle's teachings, this trifecta of terms has been at the forefront of speech writing. Few have used them more effectively than Dr. King. You don't need the intellect of MLK to understand them.
To use pathos in a speech is to channel the audience's emotional state. Getting angry because the listeners are angry, or asking the questions that the audience would, is how a speech has pathos. Conversely, ethos is for you - the person giving the address - to disclose your character to the audience. You want the audience to see you as worthy of empathy and thus become persuaded by your speech.
Unlike the other two, logos cannot be directly translated from its original Greek into English. Loosely, it can be understood as logic. This is the ultimate form of persuasion; reasoning with the audience. It shows dignity, respect, and love - the essence of Martin Luther King's exemplary leadership.