‘Inspirational speech’ is like ‘viral video’—a great conversational soundbite, but devilishly hard to do.

That said, if you’re going to the massive effort of crafting a speech for a conference or event, it’s worth shooting for inspirational. You may not get to John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, but trying to rise above the powerpoint stiffs is a noble goal.

There is no simple answer to crafting an inspirational speech, but finding your moonshot idea is the first step. Tweet This Quote

Inspirational stands out. If you’re an entrepreneur raising investment, you need to stand out from your competitors. If you’re addressing a conference, your company’s brand (personified by you) needs to stand out from all the others on the podium.

Anyone offering you a simple answer to crafting an inspirational speech should be treated with the same credulity as a Nigerian prince offering you his fortune online. But there are some fundamentals that can get you on the right track. Finding your moonshot idea is the first of those fundamentals.

If you were JFK, what would you say?

Most of the clients we write speeches for are pretty decent speakers already. They have good presentations, and they can command a room.

However, their presentations tend to explain how something is going to be done. The ten step plan. Three easy tips. Five things you should never forget.

A great speech inspires your listeners to believe in an idea—not how to execute it. Tweet This Quote

JFK didn’t do three easy tips. He left that for his strategists to work out behind closed doors. Instead, JFK focused on winning the hearts and minds of his listeners. He inspired them to believe in an idea—he didn’t telling them how to execute that idea.

Think of your speech. Is there a big, lofty idea in there that will give your audience goosebumps?

Getting to goosebumps

Here’s my preferred methodology for trying to pull someone’s visionary idea out of their less-than-visionary script.

  • Why does the world need this? If you can tell me why society/civilization/the world needs this idea, it might have the trappings of a moonshot. Remember, ‘need’ isn’t the same as ‘could use’. I need oxygen. I could use a steam iron for my suits.
  • What will the world look like once they have this? If the world sees your idea come to fruition, will it be a better place? Really better? Or just better in a superficial marketing sense? Your audience can sniff out non-innovation dressed up in a slick tagline and slideshow. If your gut is telling you that your idea isn’t big enough to change the world in a fundamental way, dig deeper. Or find another idea.
  • Can my dream be part of your dream? Your big idea might be wonderful, but if there’s no role for me in it, then it’s simply an interesting side show. For example, I can’t get behind your dream to make lots of money—that’s all about you. I can, however, get behind your dream of redistributing all your money to start micro-businesses that make my inner city a more vibrant place.

In your speech, explain why the world needs your idea and how it will be a better place. Tweet This Quote

What about the nitty gritty?

If you have a complex topic to address, you can still do an inspirational speech. The trick is creating a leave behind.

A leave behind takes the form of a PDF on a landing page you create specifically for your speech. It is a long form manuscript of your presentation that anyone who wants the nitty gritty of your talk can download for a recap.

Saying at the beginning of your talk that you have a leave behind gives you wings. Everyone knows you aren’t going to deal with ‘the how’ in your talk. Your audience will relax, put down their pens and phones, and just enjoy. It’s a win-win.

If your gut is telling you your idea isn’t big enough to change the world, dig deeper—or find another idea. Tweet This Quote

Will it work?

If it were easy to do a moonshot speech, we would all do them. We would also all write Oscar-winning screenplays.

Fact of the matter, you may not get to the moon with your speech. But as the quote goes, if you aim for the moon and miss, chances are you’ll still hit a star.

A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

About the author

Marc Stoiber

Marc Stoiber

Marc Stoiber is a brand consultant, entrepreneur, educator and writer. He has led the creative departments of multinational ad agencies, launched his own green ad agency (later sold to an innovation firm), and now splits his time between helping clients, launching new companies (including his just-launched venture Your Ultimate Speech) and teaching marketing at Royal Roads University. He’s a prolific blogger, speaks from coast to coast, and has just launched a new book, Didn’t See It Coming.

  • Alessandra Orlandini

    This post gives tips about giving a great inspirational speech. I think this was a good post because it talks about how inspiration is key, and this is something I believe to be true with anything, if we can inspire people to believe in a movement or a cause than you have already achieved something. A great speech inspires listeners to believe in an idea. I think if someone is a good speaker and has good stage presence than you can really capture an audience and make them listen to you. I think this is a great quality because I hate public speaking but I think we need to educate younger audiences to be able to make these inspirational speeches about things they are passionate about.

  • Elisa

    I have never done an inspirational speech before. Honestly I can’t really think of one that I have seen in person. However I love the way that Marc Stoiber explains JFK’s strategy of his speech. He didn’t throw his thoughts onto people, he strategized by focusing on the people by “winning their hearts and minds”. The idea of having a great idea that can impact the entire world is a very stressful thought. Understanding these different terms though if I over do have a great idea that can impact the world… knowing how to manipulate my wording to show how my dream can be apart of other people’s dreams is an important key to get people to see why the world needs this huge idea.

  • Hjordis Robinson

    In today’s technologically driven world, I feel as though there has been a significant decrease in audience connectivity and passion due to programs such as Powerpoint that have a tendency to lead discussion and ideas instead of the actual speaker. It is increasingly difficult to gauge whether the speaker is truly interested in what he or she is talking about, or if the lavish, colorful projected slides are creating the impression that they are. However this article caught my eye because of the focus the author places on the importance of having passion when one speaks publicly, especially in speeches that are meant to motivate people towards something positive. It encourages the reader to always remember why it is that their idea is great and how it could potentially impact the world. Consequently, ideas such as those presented in this piece will result in speakers being more able to connect to their audience and their ability gain credibility for the topics presented.

  • Sarah Nelson

    Being able to inspire an audience is such an important skill in trying to change the world. It seems like everyday there are more and more technological ideas to better the world, but being able to sell these ideas to audience or investors is the hard part. This article explains how speakers like JFK are able to sell their dreams to audiences. I am currently in a speech class and this gives me a lot to more to think about when creating speeches and are very helpful tips. My one question is, if someone is trying to sell their idea to investors, don’t they need more of the nitty gritty details?

  • James Robertson

    You can’t craft something great unless you try in the first place. This article has shown me that even the greats like JFK had to think outside of the box in order to win he hearts of Americans and he did so valiantly. The idea of crafting a speech to get listeners to believe in an idea instead of how to execute something is powerful. I believe this forces them to use somewhat of their imagination instead of being a laid out process. it allows it to be interpreted in numerous ways for which multiple great ideas can spur from.

  • Nicholas Carter

    I believe that becoming a great speaker takes lots of practice and inspirational ideas. Like James said below, all of the greats had to think outside the box to make themselves stand out from the rest of the crowd. One modern day inspirational speaker that stands out for going above and beyond to me is GOP Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump is the front runner for the Republican candidates because he makes himself stand out through presenting social issues in a unique way.

  • Rachel Rodriguez

    I agree with this article. I think it is important for motivational speakers to think outside the box, like the great speakers, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to be inspirational and affect their target audience. I feel that this is important because it empowers people to respond to what you’re saying and to either take action or back your leadership through support.

  • Michael Potter

    Sarah, I was wondering the same thing. I agree on the point of inspiring audiences with an idea, something that reasonates deeply with the listeners and grabs their full attention. Inspiring is not easy and articles like this are there to help, but I also wonder how you can pitch a “world-changing” idea without some nitty gritty on getting there. Flying cars or a cure for cancer could be spectacular and breathtaking ideas, but wouldn’t an investor want to know how these ideas can be executed?

  • Brittany Lane

    Hi Sarah & Michael, thank you both for your comments + questions. What you’re asking is important, especially in the context of entrepreneurs. However, most pitches for investors are just a handful of minutes—it’s never enough time to explain the whole story + operations of your business. If you can’t hook your audience in a way that inspires them, they might never care about the nitty gritty anyway. My thoughts are that Marc would say it’s important to know your audience and adjust your inspirational speech accordingly. I don’t think Marc is saying you should exclude everything about “the how”…rather, touch on it briefly, but make sure to offer follow up material that explains things in more depth—making it easy for investors to understand how your startup functions. Spending more time on “the why” might be your best use of time, though, given that it’s limited.

  • Kade Hanson

    The idea to dig deeper is something that i have always grownup learning. I rely like the ideas behind, “In your speech, explain why the world needs your idea and how it will be a better place” . It tells us that behind every speech there always is a deeper idea. The idea must be strong enough to create response from people. You must inspire the world to change.

    All of these ideas are great and I think this article can teach me a lot of important things. It gives great advice on how to inspire and become like a great speakers of our time. It teaches you there is more to a speech than information. It shows the strategy to make yourself know. Being a com major this article was something I found worth while to read.

  • Claire Salvucci

    Being able to communicate an idea is such an important skill to have in life. I agree that people will often times be more interested in a business idea if they feel like it is going to make a large impact. Being able to inspire an audience is an efficient way in pitching a concept, as well as growing a business.

  • Adam Bundy

    Inspiring others is a real challenge and getting them to follow you and your idea is absolutely necessary. However I feel like the article missed out on a key factor. You could have one of the best ideas around but if you don’t show passion about it and its development I feel that will show through and people will not buy in. MLK was passionate about equal rights and JFK was passionate about advancement and it showed. In order to inspire people in my opinion passion is absolutely necessary.

  • Amanda

    I found this article to be very informative. I am currently enrolled in my second speech class and I find that these moon walk speeches are the hardest to create. I found that the advice was actually do able. I liked knowing that the ten step process is in fact still boring but that the solution is to really win the audience over with the idea and importance.

  • Tommy Moore

    The idea of a ‘leave behind’, some sort of document your audience can refer to afterwards, is a key in making a speech memorable. From the perspective of an audience member, taking notes on a speech you are hearing is distracting. If it’s for a lecture, then of course it makes sense to take notes, because you’ll want to refer back to them later, as you won’t remember most of lecture word for word. In comparison, a speech should really resonate with the audience, they should be remembering specifics even days after the speech has been delivered. Taking notes takes away from that. If you’re reading what you wrote down, you remember you writing it down, not the person saying it. With a ‘leave behind’ it eliminates the need to take notes, everything you should need to know about the logistics of whatever idea is being presented should be given. This way, you focus much more on the presenter and presentation than you do on trying to get the information about what they are talking about. When you focus more on the presenter and presentation, their point becomes more clear and much more memorable.

  • Katie Frank

    I agree with Adam. Passion is definitely a key factor in a powerful speech. Without it, many speeches seem to simply fall flat. I also think it’s important to remember different methods of communicating are effective for different people. I feel there is not a set surefire way to give a great speech.