Your steps to creating a speech to inspire

By Simon Bucknall, Toastmasters International 

Picture this:

The schoolboy shuffles to the front of his classroom.

And then he speaks.

‘Looking at me, you probably think I’m a joke.’

‘But I’m not!’

‘You probably think I’ll end up in a gang.’

‘But I won’t!’

‘You think I won’t do anything with my life.’ 

“But I WILL.”

Over the years, I’ve heard thousands of speakers – from CEOs to refugees, from MBAs to primary school teachers, from university professors to politicians to the occasional prison inmate.

Few have matched the impact made by that 15 year old.

To say you could have heard a pin drop in that classroom would be an understatement.

Was he perfect?


(Frankly, he was a pain for much of the day.)

Was he polished in his delivery?

Far from it.

Was he inspiring?


So, what is it to inspire?  At work? In your community? At home?

Some assume that to qualify as ‘inspirational’, you must first have a celebrated accomplishment to your name.

Others believe inspiration entails ramping up the music, jumping up and down, punching the ceiling and shouting at people.

In my experience, inspiration requires none of these things.  What is needed is Certainty

Certainty in what you believe.  In what you value.  In what you know, deep down in your gut, to be true and important.

Think about it for a moment…

Could you imagine being inspired by a ditherer? By someone who simply can’t make their mind up? Who’s never-really-quite-sure?

Princess Diana, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and Mother Theresa may have expressed themselves in very different ways.

What they had in common, however, was deep conviction – a clarity in their own mind regarding what they believed to be important.

The impact was plain to see.

In business, a leader’s ability to inspire through the spoken word has never been more highly prized. You may be rallying your team, seeking to engage the Board, presenting to shareholders or pitching to prospective customers.

So, what are the practical steps that make a difference?

Start With Change

As human beings, we feel inspired ‘to’ something… to feel a certain way, to think a certain way and/or to behave in a certain way.

That ‘change’ is valuable.

It explains why effective speakers and leaders command the respect, recognition and fees that they do.

By contrast, the vast bulk of workplace presentations deliver little if any change at all! The focus is almost entirely on the content, with little if any thought being given to how that content might be applied by the audience members.

As a result, when the presentation ends, people leave, nothing really changes and the whole exercise has been a complete waste of time.

Ask yourself right at the outset of your preparation: What change do I want to achieve? In the room? In the minutes after they leave? Over the next few weeks? Months, if not years from now?

Build your key messages around that clarity of purpose.

By doing so, you’ll…

  • Deliver better – and more authentically
  • Focus your energy on the audience, rather than on yourself
  • Feel less ‘nervous’
  • Likely include less detail (which is good!)
  • Leave people with something concrete to take away
  • Differentiate yourself from the majority of other presenters
  • Be more likely to inspire others… to change!

Clarify your beliefs and values

Inspiration involves a transfer of belief. If you do not believe in your message, idea or proposal, then why should anyone else?

Values and beliefs underpin any powerful message – sometimes, they might even be the message. There is tremendous power in the clarity with which you hold them.

In relation to what you need to communicate…

What DO you believe?

What DO you hold dear?

Get clear on that; harness that!

For example, for my part, I absolutely believe that…

1 The ability to speak powerfully is a skill, not a gift.

2 That as human beings we consistently underestimate the true value of our own personal experience.

3 That words can speak louder than actions (!)

These simple beliefs absolutely underpin the work that I do – and that comes across in the way that I deliver. (In my experience, mental focus is far more important for delivery than pure ‘delivery technique’).

As a simple exercise, complete the following sentence:

“I absolutely believe…”

Keep it simple.

There is power in the single-mindedness of your answers.

Unearth the story’s ‘Critical Moment’

Storytelling is very often referred as essential for inspirational impact. This is because personal experience exudes Certainty. After all, you’ve lived it. No-one can dispute the fact that you’ve had that experience (assuming of course it’s genuine – so, no lies!)

What’s frequently underestimated is the importance of finding the specific ‘Critical Moments’ within a story, unearthing the precious gems that capture listeners’ interest.

Critical Moments are the gold of storytelling. Just like gold in the natural world, they’re not just lying around. They have to be dug for, retrieved and refined…

Reflect for a moment on a story you’re fond of telling.

What was the Critical Moment of that story? The tipping point, if you like. The point at which things changed.

What precisely happened? Where were you? Who was there? What was said…?

Let the character speak

Dialogue is a very effective tool for conveying the drama of a Critical Moment. Through the use of dialogue, your story enters into the present tense. Listeners hear the voice of the character (rather than you the speaker). Emotionally, this makes for a more intense – and so, potentially inspiring – experience.

Contrast the following two statements:

A member of the Danish royal family was depressed and wondering whether or not to commit suicide.

To be or not to be.

Give your characters a voice and you will achieve a deeper emotional connection.

You now have some ideas to play with; choose ONE to use in your next speech or presentation.


Simon Bucknall is from Toastmasters International and was the runner-up in the 2017 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

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