Archive for the 'Content' Category

Apr 12 2017

How to inspire others

Published by under Content

dreamstime_m_30015540What 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!dreamstime_m_34690988






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Dec 06 2016

You talk funny…and so do I

Published by under Content

dreamstime_s_32853848Preparation to facilitate a workshop in India got me thinking about the differences in how we humans communicate with each other, and how that influences the kind of relationships we have with each other. Every culture has its unique language, both verbal and non-verbal. The culture may be that of a country, a state, a city, or even a family. It could be the culture of a political party, a company, or a company division. Culture is deep-seated; it sets expectations for how we behave around each other and what we can expect in the way of vocal expression, or lack of it. Many of the issues we face as a species becoming a global society have to do with the non-verbal cues we use in our preferred cultures and how that speaks to or alienates those of different cultures.

dreamstime_s_38864974Traveling through Bangalore, I am struck by the cultural differences between this city and home in the US– cows in the street, bright, bold color everywhere, women in saris working at a construction project, and street vendors selling unfamiliar vegetables. I am also struck by the presence of American companies such as Domino’s Pizza, international tech companies, and European musicians performing at festivals. The world is changing, cultures are mingling.  And, the greatest concern of workshop participants in San Jose is no different than those in Bangalore– “How can I get my ideas heard? How can I, as a leader, influence others?”

There is no time like the present to practice clear communication, but this means not just clearer talking; it is equally important to take the time to know your audience, whether you agree with them or not, are from the same culture or different ones.  By listening to them, you will better understand what they are interested in. By taking the time to study them, without judgment, you will learn about the non-verbal language that speaks to them beyond your words.  You will also be more able to create a delivery that they will hear.   In addition, there is lots of online learning in accent reduction, or learning foreign languages, and even etiquette. Will that help in a situation where there is a great divide, such as in the split the US demonstrated in the recent elections? Yes. We obviously don’t know each other well enough.

Above all, the most important questions you can ask are these:

  • What is my intention in this conversation, the aim that guides my action? Am I just focused on being heard or, as late night talk show host Trevor Noah  asked on a recent show, “are you trying to communicate as effectively as possible with another human being?”

If the latter, it’s a dialog, not a monolog, a very different kind of communication– one that builds relationships. And isn’t that what the world needs now?

For more on this topic, please see The Three Ingredients of a Meaningful Conversation
Photos by © Kadettmann |, and © Atholpady |

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