February 18, 2009
How to Write an Inspiring Speech
Do you want to inspire people? Do you have a burning desire to share your life experiences and tell your stories so that other people can benefit? If so, there are a number of things to consider when writing an inspiring speech.
This last summer I was inspired by what I witnessed at the Beijing Olympics.
As the drama unfolded around Michael Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals, I found myself relating to his family watching from the stands. I couldn’t relate to Michael and his mind-blowing accomplishments, but I could relate to the emotions that his family was experiencing: the pride and elation and love.
The reason I could relate to his family was because day after day the network kept telling us the story of his childhood. It was like being invited into his home and sitting on the couch watching home movies and going through family albums. By the time he won his eighth gold medal, I was rooting for him as if I was family. He became my surrogate child and when his mom cried, so did I.
His accomplishment was inspiring because I felt I was a part of it.
Make Your Story Their Story
In an inspiring speech, you want to bring people into your experience. They should feel as if they are part of what you are talking about. You want to connect your story to their story. If you don’t make this connection, your speech can be interpreted as indulgent and preachy.
Some of the clients who come to me for coaching on their motivational speeches have amazing stories. Similar to my experience with Michael Phelps, their accomplishments are often so far from my reality that I can’t relate to the accomplishment. However, though I may not be able to relate to climbing Mt. Everest or being a 3-time world champion sportsman, if their story is told well, I can relate to their human experience, and to the drama of their inner struggle, challenge, disappointment or victory.
Reveal Your Inner Struggle
Your story comes alive for me when you reveal your inner struggle. It doesn’t matter what your story is about; climbing a mountain, adopting a child or making a big sale, I can relate to your inner struggle more than to your specific accomplishments. You must be willing to share your private thoughts and feelings in order for me to connect. That means you have to move beyond telling me what happened, to letting me feel your emotions and share in your thought process.
Your inspiring speech may contain twenty or thirty thousand words but it will fall flat if it doesn’t contain genuine emotion. Words are interesting. Emotions are powerful. It’s not enough for you to tell me stories and share insights. It is the emotional context, shown and experienced rather than narrated, that makes you inspiring. You need to get emotional while you are speaking.
Michael Phelps was emotional and we saw it. His family members were emotional and we saw it. And because I felt that emotion, I connected to the story that was being told. I got hooked. I call that an “empathetic experience.”
Build a Bridge
Your personal experience gives you credibility as a speaker. I don’t care how many books you’ve read or what you’ve learned from your research, I want to know what you know from experience. Once you’ve shared your experience by telling me your stories and giving me examples to support your points, you then need to build a bridge from your experience to my experience.
Hey You! Yeah You!
The way you build a bridge and make your speech more inspiring, is by talking directly to me. Use the word “you” and I know you are talking to me. You make it personal to me by asking me questions like, “what about you?, how about you?, when will you…?” rather than asking “what about us?, how about us?, when will we…?” If you use words like “we” and “us”, they are general and I can pretend you are not talking to me. If you make a point and then say, “This is what I accomplished and you can do this too,” I get inspired. The word YOU is incredibly powerful. Use it.
Talk to One Person at a Time
Every member of your audience is hearing you one-on-one. They are listening to what you say and personalizing it based on their life at that moment in time. It is very immediate for them. Consider the difference between speaking to the “whole audience” versus speaking to that lady in the third row with the glasses, and then talking to the gentleman wearing the striped shirt, etc. What would it be like if you were talking to your friend? How would you speak to a friend?
Tone It Down
Have you ever seen a motivational speaker that said all the right things but failed to connect? They use a big voice and a big smile, but lack authenticity. They are the cliché motivational speaker that gives motivational speakers a bad name. In working with hundreds of speakers, I’ve found that it has a lot to do with vocal and emotional tone. Get real. Tone it down.
Just Talk to Me
A woman in a recent Story Theater Retreat came to me with one goal: to get real. Her story was fine, her heart and mind were in the right place, but she was stuck in “speaker” mode. She was having one heck of a time toning it down and just being her authentic self. Somehow she had gotten the message that she had to pump it up to be motivational and inspiring. Every time she got up to speak she’d go into “speaker” mode, and every time I reminded her to ‘just talk to me.”
It took multiple reminders before she finally relaxed into herself and stopped pushing. In the end, she was more inspiring when she toned it down and spoke naturally than she was when she came in the door. She accomplished her goal. She got real.
Intimacy is the Key to an Inspiring Speech
As you sit down to write your speech, stand up! Walk away from the computer. Take a walk with a pad of paper or a voice recorder. Go to a coffee shop with a friend and talk about what you believe. Listen for your natural cadence. Learn to write in your own voice. Think about what you’d say to a friend who is in pain. How would you counsel someone you care about? How would it sound? Be aware of the intimacy in your voice based on the emotion you are feeling. Write your speech with the intention of talking to one person at a time.
I just spent two days working with an aspiring speaker on his keynote. We made hundreds of strategic choices. And over and over again he kept commenting on how complex the design phase was, what I call the architecture of the speech. Without the proper architecture – the right ingredients organized in the right sequence – your speech won’t hold together. Rather than being easy for the audience to follow, it will jerk forward like a car in desperate need of a tune up.
Don’t simply write your speech; design it. How will the pieces hold together? Where will they intersect?
You can write an inspiring speech. You can be an inspiring speaker. Your life and your stories can inspire people. Don’t wait. Start writing your inspiring speech today.
If not you…who? If not now…when?
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