Need To Deliver An Inspirational Speech? Start With a Big Idea


public speaking

I noticed the following post on LinkedIn, and thought that it was important to share it.

When I first came to UBC to teach Industry Analysis and Entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Management, I was struck by how utterly unprepared Faculty of Management students were to stand up and communicate their ideas.  Most students used 3 x 5 cards and stared at the floor. One student, without realizing it, stood up and crossed his arms across his chest, projecting only his personal discomfort with the situation.  Clearly this problem needed to be addressed. If there is one thing I have learned as a Speech-Communication graduate, it is the importance of being able to stand up and communicate your ideas, what you believe, and most importantly, who you are.  It is crucial to career success, no matter what role you may play. Some people are “naturals,” while others are not. It makes no difference. You can do it if you make an effort.

The next semester I was offered the opportunity to teach Management Communication, which apparently had been taught without any regard for the crucial importance of interpersonal communication and self-confidence. I seized on the opportunity, and my first order of business was to have people stand up and summarize themselves in 3 minutes or less. We spent the entire semester focused on “Toastmaster” public speaking skills and business ethics, and nothing could have been more productive or satisfying. Many of those students have since told me that they learned many important skills in my Management Communications course.

How to write an inspirational speech? Start with a moonshot

‘Inspirational speech’ is like ‘viral video’ – a great conversational soundbite, but devilishly hard to do.

That said, if you’re going to the massive effort of crafting a speech for a conference or event, it’s worth shooting for inspirational. You may not get to John F Kennedy or Martin Luther King, but trying to rise above the powerpoint stiffs is a noble goal.

And make no mistake. It’s important that you do shoot for inspirational. Inspirational stands out. If you’re raising investment, you need to stand out from your competitors. If you’re addressing a conference, your company’s brand (personified by you) needs to stand out from all the others on the podium.

Anyone offering you a simple answer to crafting an inspirational speech should be treated with the same credulity as a Nigerian prince offering you his fortune online. But there are some fundamentals that can get you on the right track.

Finding your moonshot idea is the first of those fundamentals.

If you were JFK, what would you say?

Most of the clients we write speeches for are pretty decent speakers already. They have good presentations, and they can command a room.

However, their presentations tend to explain how something is going to be done. The ten step plan. Three easy tips. Five things you should never forget.

JFK didn’t do three easy tips. He left that for his strategists to work out behind closed doors.

Instead, JFK focused  on winning the hearts and minds of his listeners. Inspiring them to believe in an idea – not telling them how to execute that idea.

Think of your speech. Is there a big, lofty idea in there that will give your audience goosebumps?

Getting to goosebumps

Here’s my preferred methodology for trying to pull someone’s visionary idea out of their less-than-visionary script.

  1. Why does the world need this? If you can tell me why society / civilization / the world needs this idea, it might have the trappings of a ‘moonshot’. Remember, need isn’t the same as could use. I need oxygen. I could use a steam iron for my suits.
  2. What will the world look like once they have this?  If the world sees your idea come to fruition, will it be a better place? Really better? Or just better in a superficial marketing sense? Your audience can sniff out non-innovation dressed up in a slick tagline and slide show. If your gut is telling you that your idea isn’t big enough to change the world in a fundamental way, dig deeper. Or find another idea.
  3. Can my dream be part of your dream? Your big idea might be wonderful, but if there’s no role for me in it, then it’s simply an interesting side show. For example, I can’t get behind your dream to make lots of money – that’s all about you. I can, however, get behind your dream of redistributing all your money to start microbusinesses that make my inner city a more vibrant place.

What about the brass tacks?

If you have a complex topic to address, you can still do an inspirational speech. The trick is creating a leave behind.

A leave behind, in the form of a pdf on a landing page you create specifically for your speech, can be downloaded by anyone who wants the brass tacks of your talk.

Saying at the beginning of your talk that you have a leave behind gives you wings. Everyone knows you aren’t going to deal with the how in your talk. Your audience will relax, put down their pens and phones, and just enjoy. Win win.

Will it work?

If it were easy to do a moonshot speech, we’d all do them. We’d also all write Oscar-winning screenplays.

Fact of the matter, you may not get to the moon with your speech. But as the quote goes, if you aim for the moon and miss, chances are you’ll still hit a star.

Marc Stoiber is president and founder of  Your Ultimate Speech.

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