Last Updated: Sep 14, 2015
Want to know how to capture your audience’s attention? Here are 5 strategies you can learn from comedian and political activist Dick Gregory.

Holding a university audience’s attention would be tough in any decade, yet doing that in late 1960s was especially difficult. That was era when students demanded unprecedented rights and involvement in university decisions. Student leaders even held sit-ins for days at a in administration offices. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became campus mantra.

Yet on February 11, 1968, when comedian/civil rights activist Dick Gregory spoke at Ohio University in Ans, Ohio, Memorial Auditorium filled long before Gregory’s introduction. Even more significant: students remained spellbound by Gregory’s speech for 90 minutes.No one left, and when speech ended, applause indicated audience would have remained for anor hour.

Why? Though he had been discovered and promoted by Hugh Hefner and n featured by show king Jack Paar, Gregory’s reputation as a speaker fell far short of Dr. Martin Lur King Jr’s. So what made Dick Gregory so mesmerizing that day?

FIRST:He was living example of his message. Rar than accept comfort of his wide acclaim and solid income, he risked his career and his life in calling for justice for black people at all economic and social levels. Just prior to famed march on Selma, Alabama, Gregory spoke re for two hours to foster participation. Daily, he endured slurs, threats, and rejection.

SECOND:He spoke without bitterness, and issued no summons for revenge. While some or black leaders demanded reparations and total upheaval, Gregory remained a calm spokesman for reason and for change through legal .

THIRD:He appealed to students through his trademark humor.Audience members rred with laughter when he told about ordering chicken as a customer in a segregated restaurant. When his order arrived, three white young men told him, “Whatever you do to that chicken, we’ll do to you.” Without a second’s delay, Gregory put down his and fork, picked up chicken. . .and kissed it.

FOURTH:He could switch from funny to very serious with a quick, smooth transition. Example: “How would you feel,” he asked, “if that ‘cracker’ (term used widely n for a white racist) had thrown you to ground, held you down with his foot on your neck and a shotgun pressing against your head?”

FIFTH: Gregory created “ illusion of first .” Though certainly he had given this same speech to dozens of audiences previously, his lively conversational style–seemingly “off cuff”–suggested that all he said was coming to him spontaneously without rehearsal or memorization. University students, he sensed, got ir fill of lectures daily in ir classes. That made his “let’s about this” style that much more welcomed.

Yes, when Dick Gregory ended his speech to thunderous applause, he left us eager to hear more. I say “us,” because I was one of those fortunate students in auditorium–possibly one who clapped loudest and longest.

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Consultant, Speech Cch, and Keynote Speaker, “Helping Corporations and Leaders Communicate Persuasively.” Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300 or visit his website:


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