When I was 17, at the start of my senior year of high school, my parents got a divorce. Not only did their marriage crumble, but so did my hopes of college. How would I ever pay for it? I descended to the valley of despair.
And then one day, waiting at the dentist, I picked up a newsletter. It was for the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens. I must have been waiting a long time.
I flipped it open and saw a poem by Amanda Bradley—a poem I have carried in my wallet for 33 years.
Follow your dream . . . take one step at a time
And don’t settle for less, just continue to climb.
Follow your dream . . . if you stumble don’t stop
And lose sight of your goal, press on to the top.
For only on top can we see the whole view,
Can we see what we’ve done and what we can do,
Can we then have the vision to seek something new
Press on and follow your dream.
The words inspired me. They lifted me out of the Valley of Despair and gave me hope to climb to the mountain top, to follow my dream.
The mountain climber picture at the top is how I saw it in my mind’s eye—I just needed to get up the mountain and then I could see the whole view
So, I took on 2 part time jobs during my senior year. The first was clerking at a drug store. The second was applying for scholarships—I probably applied for about 50. That year, through both saving money and receiving scholarships, I was able to pay for college—the whole 4 years on less than a year’s effort.
Imagine the lives you could touch . . . with your inspiring words. And you don’t even have to be a poet!
What does it mean to inspire?
Is inspiration the same as motivation?
If I offered you $100 or $10,000 to give a short speech right now, you might be motivated to do so. But would you be inspired? No. If instead, I offered you the chance to make a difference by speaking on behalf of a cause you cared deeply about, you’d probably do it for free, or even pay to have the privilege of speaking.
Inspiration is a pull. Motivation is push.
Inspiration means to “breathe life into.”
How do you develop content that inspires, that is the breath of life for your audience?
There are 3 basic steps:
- Begin with why
- State a clear vision
- Appeal to emotions
First, begin with Why. There are 4 Why questions you need to answer:
Why this subject? Why you? Why this audience? Why now?
Why this subject? Is this a subject that is important, that has lasting significance? Will the audience be challenged? People aren’t inspired by the ordinary.
Why you? Why do you care? If you don’t care, why should the audience? And, are you credible on this topic? You probably can’t inspire people to make healthy life choices if you are an overweight, unemployed alcoholic. But if you were an overweight, unemployed alcoholic and you are now slim, sober and successful, you are a credible source of hope.
Why this audience? Not all topics resonate with every audience. For example, the importance of retirement planning is not likely to resonate with teenagers.
Why now? Timing does matter. Trying to inspire a teenage girl to practice abstinence when she’s already pregnant is poor timing.
Second, state a clear vision. Show them what could be, what is possible.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said that the United States should set the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth” by the end of the decade.
On July 20, 1969, when I was 7 years old, I sat glued in front of the black and white images, and watched Neil Armstrong become the first man to step foot on the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
John F Kennedy’s words inspired dreams and mobilized financial resources.
Third, appeal to emotions.
The main way to appeal to emotions is to tell a story of overcoming, one that gives hope.
A few months ago, someone posted a video on Facebook, titled “The Amazing Transformation of a Guy Who Didn’t Give up! This was a 5 minute video, which by internet standards is a little long, but I clicked on it anyway.
It’s about a 47 year old disabled veteran. For 15 years doctors had told him he would never walk again without assistance—he needed knee braces, a back brace and 2 canes. He basically gave up and gained weight—a lot of weight. He couldn’t walk or run. Exercise seemed impossible. Most yoga instructors turned him away—all but one–the one who believed in him when no one else did. He started doing yoga and fell many times. But he got back up. Again and again. He started to believe it could happen . . . “Just because I can’t do it today, doesn’t mean I can’t do it someday.” He lost 140 pounds in 10 months. And the doctors were wrong. Not only could he walk without assistance, but he could run. His message of hope: Never underestimate what you can accomplish when you believe in yourself. Never give up.
Of course, the visuals, the sound track, and the quotes (his own in this case, but you can also find relevant inspiring quotes on just about any topic) all added to the inspiration.
Imagine the lives you could touch with your inspiring words. Begin with the why. State a clear vision. Appeal to emotions.
Take your audiences to the mountain top, where they can then have the vision to seek something new.