Start with a moonshot

How to write an inspirational speech?

'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. Read more from him here.