Apr 12 2017
What makes a talk or conversation inspiring? Is it magic? Is it power? Is it beauty that inspires? Is it joy, pain, or sorrow? Leaders often feel a need to be inspiring because they want to get people to embrace their ideas and follow their lead. Performers want to capture the moment to bring an audience to tears or laughter. Yet, capturing the moment doesn’t necessarily capture the heart and soul of another human being to inspire them, and we are not all inspired by the same things. Being inspirational is not a given, even when you have something important to say.
Research on inspiration, by psychologists Thrash and Elliot, shows us that inspiration is something that is evoked…that it happens to people spontaneously. Therefore, you may set out to be inspirational and fail miserably. However, research also shows the importance of inspiration– that it paves the way for people to be more creative and more motivated to get out there and make things happen. Thus, we need inspiration, and though a gorgeous rainbow may inspire awe, we also need to be inspired by other human beings.
Lots of people have ideas about what makes a person or moment inspirational. From Navy Seals to psychometricians to bloggers, the internet is full of opinions and articles that describe what makes someone or somthing inspiring. Many are compelling and some are even brilliant, so I encourage you to follow the links on this page to learn more. However, I’ve selected 7 characteristics of inspirational communication that seem to be universal as well as a few inspirational video clips to illustrate my points. Thus, if you want to be inspirational:
1. Move them to action. An article by Paul Jarvis in Huff Post, called “Motivational quotes on social media are ruining your life,” sums it up pretty well. He says, “If quotes on Twitter aren’t moving you towards action and instead just move you towards looking at more quotes, then maybe it’s time to make a change.” Similarly, the research shows that “inspiration involves both being inspired by something and acting on that inspiration.”
2. Have a point and a point of view. This could be a belief that only you have, or a universal truth, a brand new idea or a need for action. Whatever it is, to inspire you must be credible and clear about your intention for the talk. Could Zak Ebrahim be more clear that in his TED talk, I am the son of a terrorist; here’s how I chose peace?
3. Use common experience. Thank God, most of us don’t have Zak’s situation, but common experience can be extremely inspirational as well, especially when delivered as a story. Stories connect us in ways that data never will, no matter how compelling the numbers. They move us better than goals or directives. There’s an illustration from the movie, The Peaceful Warrior: Take out the trash.
4. Bring out emotion. When you watch movie clips, you hear music come in at exactly the right place to enhance the emotion of the moment. It’s a technique with a purpose, which is to emphasize the emotion in the moment, the place where the heart comes in. Expressive delivery and words can be used powerfully as Rocky does in his famous “It ain’t how hard you hit,” scene. But you don’t always need big, loud emotion. Check out Bagger Vance for something subtler.
5. Give them time to take it in. You can use volume as an emotional component of delivery, but you can also use silence to punctuate your point, to let it sink in. If you don’t give your ideas and emotions time to sink in, you may miss an inspirational moment, no matter how expressive, relevant, and moving your words and delivery. An uncomfortable pause may be just the ticket to an unforgettable and inspiring moment.
6. Be memorable. Hopefully, your story is unforgettable in itself, but here are three other ways to be memorable:
- Use sound bites to punctuate a point, or repeat important phrases to help drive the message home and make it stick.
- Give them something unusual to remember; get creative.
- List takeaways or steps your audience can remember to increase the chance that they will be inspired to follow your guidance and use your ideas, knowing exactly what to do.
7. Be authentic. Most importantly, merely quoting others, using old axioms, or preaching dogmas will not be inspirational, although I rather like the one I pasted below. Your words and delivery must come from your core beliefs, your heart and your experience. A classic example of this is Toni Morrison’s Commencement address to Rutgers– her story, her perspective, from the heart. Inspirational!