Crafting a Message That Inspires: 7 Tips for Giving a Motivational Speech

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We talk a lot about the business side of speaking on The Speaker Lab blog. That’s because the business side is really important–and something you won’t get a lot elsewhere. But we’re here to help you with all aspects of professional speaking–not just marketing, lead generation, and building your speaker website. Do you need some tips for how to give a motivational speech? Not just any motivational speech, but a great motivational speech? We’ve got those for you. 

Here are seven tips for how to give a motivational speech that you can start applying right now. As you get ready to deliver your next talk, you can use these tips as a checklist to help your words make the greatest impact. As always, we’ve linked other resources to dig deeper into each of these topics. You can also check out our founder Grant Baldwin’s book The Successful Speaker which has a whole section on preparing and delivering your talk! 

1. Practice

Practicing your speech might seem obvious. All the same, in case you trust too much in your ability to improv a motivational keynote we’re going to chat a bit about it. You may have heard the phrase “practice makes perfect,” but we’re not about that. Don’t worry about practice making perfect–your talk does not, in fact, need to be perfect. We like to say practice makes peaceful instead. Being well-prepared is one of the best ways to calm your nerves and keep any last minute panic from interfering with your talk. 

Practicing is key, but memorizing your speech down to the letter shouldn’t be the goal. Instead, focus on internalizing your key arguments. Once you’re comfortable with those, you can change up the “filler” content with each delivery. This kind of non-memorization practice is really helpful when you deliver the same talk to different audiences. Imminent circumstances or different contexts might make it necessary to adjust your talk slightly to suit your audience. When you know all your main points through and through, you can rearrange them more easily, and if inspiration strikes you in the moment you don’t have to worry about messing up the flow of your talk. 

The best way to practice is to read your talk out loud. Start by reading it all the way through start to finish a few times to get a sense for the flow of your argument. Make changes as necessary if you notice any confusing transitions, non-sequiturs, or too much extraneous info. Then, go through your talk section by section, paragraph by paragraph. This is where you exhaustively internalize work of every point, story, joke, and transition. Once you feel prepared to deliver the talk from memory, try to video record yourself rehearsing so you can analyze your facial expressions, gestures, and pacing.

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2. Tell Stories

We harp on this one a lot. But storytelling is just that important. Stories are one of the most powerful ways to connect with your audience and make your point come alive. 

There are five storytelling strategies you can follow to help you master how to give a motivational speech. These strategies come straight from a podcast episode we did with speaker and coach Mike Pacchione. 

  1. Prime your audience. Storytelling is most effective when you have your audience’s full attention. Before you dive in, tell your audience that’s what’s about to happen. This could mean simply saying: “hey, I’ve got a story!” Or you can use a longer lead-in, like “something crazy happened to me once that illustrates this point. I’m going to tell you about it.” Once you say that, people pay attention. You don’t want to get started on your story while your audience is still trying to catch up to what you were talking about a minute before. 
  2. Use vivid details. Telling a story in itself doesn’t make your talk interesting. Use vivid details to help the story come alive for your audience. Try to keep them relevant though. If a detail doesn’t matter, your audience will fixate on it and be distracted from what matters. 
  3. Describe one of your characters in a sentence. This is really important for helping your audience really visualize what you’re talking about. Describe one character with one sentence about one trait. (You can describe more if the story calls for it, but only one is really necessary for helping your audience follow along). 
  4. Have a “tension” that gets released. Working backwards from the point you want to make, look at how your story fits into your overall message. Then, build up suspense, introduce a problem in need of solving, or utilize other “tension” in the story. This strategy serves a twofold goal. First of all, it keeps your audience on the edge of their seat waiting for what happens next! Secondly, the resolution should illuminate why the story is relevant to your talk. You want an “aha” moment–now they see what it’s all about!
  5. Declare the lesson learned in ten words or less. Whether you’re talking to 50 or 5,000, someone will inevitably zone out during your story. Wrap things up with a quick recap of what your listeners should take away before you move on with your talk. That way, if they missed the interesting part, they still get the requisite information. 

We have a few other podcast episodes about how to master storytelling here, here, and here. There’s no way out of it–storytelling is key when it comes to giving a motivational speech. 

3. Use humor 

Audiences love funny speakers. Humor is one of the easiest ways to draw your audience back into your talk. If you lose their attention, cracking a joke will often capture it again. Humor breaks the ice, defuses tension, and endears you to your audience. Unfunny speakers often come across as boring. Humor is a great fallback if you trip onstage or the mic stops working. If you’re not good at coming up with jokes, try to find ways to incorporate humorous side remarks, facial expressions, or gestures that make your audience laugh without demanding too much energy from you. 

It’s important to use humor that is well-fitted both to your niche and your audience. If you travel a lot for speaking engagements, that means doing some research about where you’re speaking and what they’re known for. Cracking a joke about Old Bay will go over well in Maryland but might leave a West Coast audience perplexed if not yawning. And we cannot stress this enough–avoid anything that might be considered offensive. If you have any doubt as to whether your audience will find something funny or inappropriate, go with a “safe” joke instead.

4. Close and open loops

This is one of our founder Grant Baldwin’s strategies for how to give a motivational speech that keeps your audience really engaged. Closing and opening loops helps your audience follow your argument and stay attentive. If you just rush into your talk making point after point, your audience might forget what you’ve already said or fail to make connections between parts of your speech. 

When you open a loop, you raise a question to which your audience wants to stick around and hear the answer. Closing that loop gives your audience closure, reminds them of what you’ve said already, and helps them connect the dots. Telling a story of which the meaning only becomes clear later on, for example, opens and closes a loop. So does saying “remember this–it will come in handy!” when you introduce a statistic, graph, or data point. Or you can hype up something that hasn’t happened yet: “in a few minutes, I’ll tell you _____.” Just make sure you close every loop you open!  

5. Involve your audience

Some of the best motivational speakers are those who use unorthodox but memorable means to engage with their listeners. Some ideas we have discussed on our podcast include magic, games, or using props in unexpected ways. Since your audience wants to make sure they catch what happens next, they’ll start paying attention (like when you start a joke, they listen for the punchline). Asking for a show of hands, leading a (serious or humorous) mental or physical exercise, and encouraging your audience to talk to those around them are all ideas for interaction.  

Involving your audience is a fun chance to think outside the box and do things that other speakers don’t do. Ideally, your audience will have a good time, really engage with the content of your talk, and remember what you have to say. We’ve had successful speakers come onto our podcast to share how they use everything from magic tricks to pop quizzes to interact with their audience in meaningful ways. 

6. Excel at your Q&A

Learning how to give a motivational speech goes beyond the speech itself. As we’ve discussed many times, you are the brand of your motivational speaking business. That means that how you handle your Q&A can affect the impact of your talk. 

Many motivational speakers dread the Q&A period. You can prepare, practice, and even perfect your speech to the best of your ability, but lose your presence of mind when someone asks a weird question. Though it’s tempting, you can’t count on planting allies at intervals in the auditorium who promise to ask questions that you give them in advance. Figuring out how to deal with questions of all kinds on the fly is part of becoming a good motivational speaker

Keep all your answers short and ask audience members to raise their hands before they say anything. This will start things off in an orderly and timely fashion. If an audience member rambles or gets off track, don’t feel shy about interrupting! You’re the one getting paid to speak. Gently redirect or restate the question, give your answer, and move on. It’s never a bad idea to say “I don’t know off the top of my head, but you can email me later” and share an easy way to contact you. 

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7. Win over your audience off the stage.

Interacting with people before and after your talk can make them more agreeable to what you say onstage. At big conferences, there are usually built-in opportunities like cocktail hours or welcome receptions that fulfill this purpose. In the absence of those events, small tweaks to your schedule can go a long way toward winning over your audience. You might be able to hang out during the half hour before your talk, introducing yourself and chatting with people as they walk in. By the time you go onstage, you’ll have a few friends and allies in the audience already. 

We recommend when possible to make yourself available for questions and conversations after your talk. Is that too late to make an impression on your audience? We don’t think so! Being there to address their questions and help them put your talk into action makes a huge impact. And if you announce that you will be available before you start your talk, you have already established your brand as a helpful speaker who really cares about their audience. These conversations are a great opportunity to direct audience members to other products and resources you offer, like an email list or course. It’s a win-win! 

Speakers who are very introverted or travel from gig to gig won’t want to spend much time on this so they can preserve their energy. (We have a podcast episode about speaking as an introvert right here.) If that describes you, that’s totally fine! Just find another area of your speechcraft or marketing to pour some of that effort into. Remember, while giving a great speech is the best marketing for your speaking business, it shouldn’t be the only thing you do. building a good rapport with clients and audience members helps a lot too!

Conclusion

These are our top seven tips for how to give a motivational speech, but it doesn’t stop here! Many other factors contribute to preparing and delivering a great talk. Becoming a great speaker is all about finding the strategies that suit your message and your mission. 

 

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