Okay, so you may not want to be a motivational speaker (and live in a van down by the river). However, all of us, at one time or another, will want to be a more inspirational speaker. Sometimes, we just want to motivate our team. In other situations, we may be asked to speak at an annual meeting and want the audience to see us as being an inspirational leader. Whatever the case, there are times when the purpose of our speech is not necessarily to inform or persuade but to motivate and inspire. These are a few tips that will help you be a more inspirational speaker and presenter.
Be a More Inspirational Speaker-7 Tips from Top Motivational Speakers
Earl Nightingale: The One Point Talk
Earl Nightingale was one of the pioneers of motivational speaking when he created an audio record called, “The Strangest Secret” back in 1956. Because his background was as a radio personality, his technique was quite a bit different than inspirational speakers today. I like to call his technique, the one-point-talk.
One of the things that we teach in Fearless Presentations ® is what we call the “Three Point Talk.” In this technique, you have to really focus on a specific topic, narrow down your key points, and then add lots of evidence to prove your points. It is a powerful presentation technique that works really well. (More details about this technique at How to Design Presentations Quickly.) Earl Nightingale, though, liked to focus on just a single thing in each of his speeches. Most of his presentations were 10 minutes to 30 minutes in length. He would often create interest by making his titles somewhat of a mystery.
For instance, “The Strangest Secret” doesn’t really tell you what the secret is. (You have to listen to the speech to get the answer.)
If you’ve read any of my blogs or listened to my podcasts, I often discourage people from making their titles cryptic. If you create a good, descriptive title, it helps your audience remember the content. This is important if you have a number of key points that you need for your audience to understand and to remember. However, if you only have a single concept to get across to your audience, the mystery technique works really well. The audience gets to discover the main point of your presentation as you deliver it.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Simple Message Repeated in Cadence.
Most of us are familiar with MLK’s famous, “I have a Dream” speech. He had a simple, singular message (similar to Earl Nightingale), but he delivers that message with style and energy. Because he is saying the same, simple message after every example, the crowd begins to catch onto the cadence. By the third or forth time, the crowd is finishing his sentence each time. You still see a lot of politicians using this method, today.
The technique may seem uncomfortable if you have never used it, but I will give a simple example of how anyone can use this technique to get a crowd excited. Let’s say that you have an annual meeting with a theme like, “Together, We are One.” You could find five or six incidents from the last year where your team members worked well together. All you would need to do is tell the audiences each of these stories, one at a time, and finish each story with the the theme, “Together, We are One.” The fourth time that you start to say the phrase, just say, “Together…” and pause with your palms open to the crowd. A few people will finish your phrase, so give them praise by say, “That’s right… Together, We are One.” Do the same thing the fifth time. Then, on the sixth time, just pause, and open your palms to the crowd. When the crowd says the whole phrase, just say, “That’s right. We ARE one!”
It is an easy way to get the crowd pepped up.
Zig Ziglar: Self-Deprecating Humor (A Lot of It)
Zig Ziglar was a popular motivational speaker based in my home of Dallas-Ft Worth for decades. He started out as a door-to-door salesman in Texas. However, he went to the local Dale Carnegie training franchise owner in Dallas and took a sales course. It worked so well for him, that he came back a few times as a graduate coach. Eventually, he went to the franchise owner and asked if he could train to be an instructor for him. The Dale Carnegie presenter told him that he had no future as a professional speaker. So, he opened up an office less than a mile away, and the rest was history.
If you watch Zig speak, you could understand the hesitation from this teacher. Zig had a very strange pattern of speech, and he was most likely the pattern for Chris Farley’s motivational speaker skit on Saturday Night Live. But Zig had something that made audiences love him — humor. Zig never told jokes. Instead, he made up sarcastic or exaggerated self-deprecating lines and stories that made audiences laugh.
“[I was being interviewed and the interviewer said…] Zig, you’re so positive, you think you could whip Muhammad Ali. Well folks, that’s dumb… even though I fought in the ring two years. And it’s a matter of record, just for your information, that the worst I ever finished was second.” — Zig Ziglar
Les Brown: Multiple Simple Messages with Emotional Stories
Les Brown uses a combination of MLK’s technique and Zig Ziglar’s technique. He has a series of simple messages like, “It’s Possible,” and “It’s necessary.” He repeats these simple phrases over and over again after each example. However, he also inserts either funny or emotional stories to solidify each point.
Les has a unique way of quoting an expert, then adding his own personal spin to the quote, and then finishing with an emotional story. In one of his speeches, he starts with the simple message, “It’s hard,” and immediately quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, “If you know the why for doing you can endure almost any how.” He then added his own spin, “If you know your ‘why,’ when the hard times come, and they will come, your reasons for doing it will be your rod an staff to comfort you.” He then spends four or five minutes telling about how he accomplished a life goal of buying his mother a house. By the end of the story, he has grown men in the room crying. He will do this three or four times for each of the short phrases.
Of course, he strings a series of these life lessons together to form his entire keynote speech. So, in reality, he is using the five-point-talk format, but he is reinforcing each of the key points with a series of quotes and emotional stories. Brilliant. (And very simple.)
Brian Tracy: A Series of Simple Steps that Anyone Can Do.
One of the reasons why people love Brian Tracy is that every one of his presentations is composed of a series of very simple steps that anyone can do. That is, if they try. He uses a few stories and analogies, but his main claim to fame is that he gives a series of steps. As people in his audience take notes, they automatically think, “I can do that.” The difference between Brian and other speakers, though, is that he add a “Why” into a few of the steps.
For instance, one step might be, “All skills are learnable.” But the next step will be, “Most people are only one new skill away from doubling their income.” The point is, that he is encouraging us to work to gain additional skills, and he reinforces that in the actual steps themselves.
Anthony Robbins: Story, Three-Point Talk, and the Rest of the Story
Anthony Robbins has been one of the most successful motivational speakers for the last 25 years. He has two fantastic strengths. First, he is a no-nonsense, high energy speaker. Secondly, and more importantly, though, he is an exceptional marketer. On a personal note, Robbins isn’t one of my favorite speakers because he is apt to use fowl language, and he has a propensity to be offensive. When you watch him speak, though, you can easily see why he is still one of the most popular and most highly paid motivational speakers of all time. His technique is very similar to what we teach in our Fearless Presentations ® classes.
He often starts a segment of his speeches with an emotional story. Most often, these starting stories are self-deprecating or show a struggle that he experienced personally. Next, he inserts a simple three point talk. Robbins will often identify three (or four, or maybe five) life lessons that he learned from that experience. He elaborates on each point by using additional examples or stories or some other valid type of evidence. Finally, he tells the end of the story. (I gave details about how to do this in my post about How to End Your Presentation with a Bang.) Most often, this ending story will be a single example of something that he did based on learning lessons from the first challenge. It is simple and easy to duplicate.
An example of this is when he spoke at DreamForce in 2017. The group was trying to raise enough money to feed one million families. Anthony Robbins started his speech talking about how a kind person donated a holiday meal to his family when he was just a little kid. He also explained how his father reacted to the gift in a hostile way. His father saw the gift as charity, and the donation just reinforced his feeling of failure to provide for his family. He uses this experience to show how our mindset affects our reality. He gives a few simple lessons that we can use in our own lives. Then, he finishes that segment of the speech with a story about how when he was 17, he decided to feed a needy family himself. He tells the story in a very emotional way, and shows how although the activities were similar, the mindset of all of the participants made the second example powerfully positive to both he and the family. (If you get a chance, watch the first 15 minutes of the video above. You will see why he is such a successful speaker.)
Sir Ken Robinson: Humor and Funny Anecdotes Make Him the Most Watched Ted Talk of All Time
Ken Robinson did a Ted Talk in 2006 that has now been viewed over 54 Million times! His technique is to start with a catchy (and a little controversial) title. Then, he spends the first four minutes getting the audience to laugh. Interestingly, unlike most Ted Talks, he doesn’t cover a lot of details. In fact, his talk is similar to the original Earl Nightingale talks covering just a single concept. However, unlike Nightingale, Robinson replaces the data and expert quotes with stories and anecdotes. The audience loves it!
So How Can We Be a More Inspirational Speaker Based on These Great Speakers?
So what is the point? If you look at some of the most inspirational speakers of the last 60 years, you will notice a few important things. Each and every one of these speakers designed their inspirational talks around either a single concept or a few simple steps. Almost all relied heavily on powerful stories to build rapport with the audience and insert humor. However, each of these speakers adapted to the media of the time.
For instance, Nightingale designed his speeches to fit a single side of a phonograph record. Why? Well, for those of you who are old enough to have ever played one, the good stuff was always on “Side 1” of the record. Side 2 was the filler. So, Nightingale, a radio guy, was creating a message that fit his media.
MLK wasn’t concerned about recordings. He was more concerned about inspiring crowds in-person. So, his repetition and cadence made it easier for the crowds to remember his words and act upon them.
Most of Zig, Les Brown, and Brian Tracey were most popular in the era of cassette tapes. Most of these tapes could hold 60 minutes of content. I have no research to back this up, but I believe that this is probably why most keynote speeches are still 60 minutes long today. (Although 60 minutes is just about a perfect time to keep people from having to leave the room when nature calls.)
Anthony Robbins was one of the first speakers to create comprehensive box sets of inspirational speeches. He made a bunch of money selling CD-Rom sets on QVC. So, he began to create a series of shorter, bite-sized presentations that people could digest over a longer period of time. So, the Story, three-point-talk, story technique was perfect for him.
Although Ted Talk seminars have been around for decades, they have become incredibly popular in the YouTube age. Ted’s normal time frame is about 20 minutes per speech. So, interestingly, many of the most watched Ted Talks follow Earl Nightingale’s technique. So, it appears that we have come full circle.
In the near future, I’m going to do a similar post about YouTube. I will do a similarly in-depth view of what people are looking for, today, from professional speakers on YouTube. I will give you a hint, though, most professional speakers aren’t yet giving this new market what they really want. Stay tuned!