How to write a speech to motivate people
When John F Kennedy took the lectern at Rice University in September 1962, his intention was far greater than delivering a speech that outlined his ambition to send a man to the moon.
The speech was engineered to motivate the nation, to inspire them to believe in what seemed impossible and to garner support for something many opposed.
He started the speech by reminding the audience of humankind’s amazing feats throughout history. Feats that seemed impossible at the time but, once achieved, progressed humanity in unimaginable ways.
He gives the example of learning how to write and then print. Creating the steam engine. Newton exploring the meaning of gravity. Inventing lights, electricity, cars and planes. Even the invention of penicillin and nuclear power.
By reminding the audience of ground-breaking advancements, he opened their minds to the possibility that man could land on the moon. He made them believe it was within reach.
It was a bold, yet brilliant, move and should serve as inspiration as today’s leaders face similar challenges.
The Information Age has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Humankind is once more on the verge of progressing in unimaginable ways. The last 20 years has given us a glimpse of what’s to come and how our lives might change.
But with this advancement comes great challenges for leaders. How do they get employees to envision a future that is too unpredictable to clearly paint? How do they motivate employees to change the way they work? How do they inspire employees to believe in previously unimaginable possibilities?
It’s not just a great challenge for leaders, but a great challenge for speechwriters too.
So, here are three tips to help you write a speech to motivate others.
Choose language wisely for your speech.
Word choice is always important. Every word on the page should be chosen intentionally. Every word should serve a purpose. This is even more important when trying to inspire and motivate others.
Choose words that convey action (think verbs and adverbs). For example, in the Rice University speech, JFK says: “No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come.”
Also note that not all words are created equal. Some words have far greater impact than others. Here’s 10 examples. It is a tiny sample to prove my point:
Choose words that will have greater impact, words that will motivate and inspire.
Use a variety of sentence lengths in your speech to convey action.
When you are trying to motivate an audience, the last thing you want to do is put them to sleep — so, for goodness’ sake, do not speak sentences that are consistently long or consistently the same length. (Consistency is NOT key when delivering a speech!)
Short sentences convey action, even danger. It says to the brain, “listen up — this is important.” Then you can use longer sentences, as well as the speed and volume of your voice, to convey movement and action.
Here’s an example.
“Listen. Come closer. I’m about to tell you something special, something you’ll want to know, something that will change your life. I’m about to tell how to write sentences that can hook an audience and get your message heard, allowing you to create positive change in the world.”
Note the different sentence lengths and its impact on rhythm.
Tell stories in your speech.
If you’ve read my blog post Three Tips to Write a Better Speech, you’ll know that, in my world, story is not King (or Queen). The point to a story is what sits on the throne.
But here’s greater insight into why and how you should tell stories.
We tell stories because they make us feel things and not in a lovey-dovey kind-of-way, but in a scientific kind-of-way.
Us humans are empathetic creatures. It’s part of our survival programming. When someone tells us a story, we feel the emotions of the character or person in the story. In other words, telling stories elicits a chemical reaction in YOUR brain! It’s why a sad movie stays with you for days.
It’s also why stories are so powerful in speeches. You can make an audience feel emotions by sharing a story.
Years after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had apologised to the stolen generation, I found myself in tears reading the transcript.
He told the story of a woman in her 80s who had been taken from her mother when she was just four years old.
Here’s an excerpt:
“She loved the dancing. She remembers once getting into strife when, as a four-year-old girl, she insisted on dancing with the male tribal elders rather than just sitting and watching the men, as the girls were supposed to do.
But then, sometime around 1932, when she was about four, she remembers the coming of the welfare men.
Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the creek bank where the children could run and hide.
What they had not expected was that the white welfare men did not come alone. They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip.
The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice, all in the name of protection.”
I felt the fear of the children. I felt the desperation of their mothers. I felt the heartache of families forever torn apart.
They weren’t just words processed by my ears, but emotions felt deep within my heart.
That’s the power of story. If you want to motivate and inspire others, tell stories.
When the days are tough and the future uncertain, the world needs great communicators. I hope these three tips help you to communicate with greater influence and impact.