In most colleges, some form of oral communication or speech class is a requirement for graduation. These basic communication classes teach you a couple of things but the most prevalent are the types of speeches. One of these is an inspirational speech and its purpose is to make an impact on the audience. Most of the time, the inspirational speech gets caught up and mixed in with the motivational speech, which usually brings across memories of Matt Foley and the fear of living in a van down by the river.
An inspirational speech is so much more than just trying to motivate and when properly delivered, it can change the world. Some of the best speeches of all time have been nothing more than an inspirational speech in their mechanics.
Martin Luther King – "I Have a Dream"
The MLK speech is one of the most highly recognized and historically significant speeches in the world. The speech was written to call to reform the legal system, but something amazing happened. Where the written words should have concluded, King improvised, in the moment, adding some of the most powerful words of the entire speech – "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Like any speech, this one was written and crafted for the moment, but King found himself inspired by the thousands that listened intently and hung to his every word. He connected to his audience and felt their common emotions and translated what they felt into words that he had the power to deliver. Truly great inspirational speeches do not just repeat words already on the page – they feel the emotions of the crowd and give a voice to the movement.
Abraham Lincoln – "Gettysburg Address"
When your country is torn apart in a vicious civil war and 51,000 men just lost their lives, the task of inspiring a nation to unite could be the most daunting of all. When Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, less than half of the Union soldiers had been properly buried. It sounds like such a somber moment in history – so why is this one of the greatest inspirational speeches of all time?
Lincoln marked a tragic occasion with an address that honored the dead but challenged the living, and he delivered the speech in under three minutes. In many ways he placed the task of honoring the dead on the grounds into the hands of those that lived – asking and wanting to know what they would do now. "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."
John F. Kennedy – “Man on the Moon”
In the shadow of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy knew that the United States had to do something about keeping up with the Soviet Union. He announced in front of a special joint session of Congress that by the end of the decade, the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon.
Kennedy’s words set a direct and specific date for anyone who was listening. When a deadline is given for something, people are more likely to respond to the call to action – even for something as challenging as putting a man on the moon. Kennedy would later address Rice University on the same subject and utter the famous quote, "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
Kennedy made his speech on May 25, 1961 and Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.
Do something you’re never done before. Be a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. Turn a moment into an opportunity for strength. Challenge yourself to do something that may not even be possible.
That is what makes a great inspirational speech.
Image credit to Smithsonian online.