Since his death, plenty has been written about Muhammad Ali’s brilliance a a communicator. Here’s just one example: “I Done Handcuffed Lightning”: The Exuberant Spoken-Word Poetry of Muhammad Ali by Katy Waldman from Slate.com.
But, as I read many of the articles about Ali after his death, I was especially struck by his use of parallel structure in one of his brief, powerful moments
I’m a big fan of parallel structure. (I teach it in my Speech Class Refresher, in my Speech classes, and use it in my speech coaching. I’ve written about it here).
There are many examples of parallel structure from the great speeches. Martin Luther King Jr. was especially high on this speaking technique. Think: “I Have a Dream;” “Let freedom ring;” “If I had sneezed…” With each of these phrases, and many others, Dr. King repeated and pounded home his key messages,
So, notice the parallel structure in Muhammad Ali’s message in this short piece. I’ve bolded the key phrases.
“I ain’t draft dodging.
I ain’t burning no flag.
I ain’t running to Canada.
I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but
I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die.
You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.
You my opposer when I want freedom.
You my opposer when I want justice.
You my opposer when I want equality.
Want me to go somewhere and fight for you?
You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs.
You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.”
Here’s the simple message. As we notice this classis technique in Ali’s riff, his use of parallel structure, with plenty of repetition, we realize again that this is a technique that all speakers can benefit from.
Here’s the clip with a key part of this: