How to Deliver a Motivational Presentation

Many of our presentations deliver “just the facts.” Budgets, updates, status reports—these typically rely on facts and logic. Perhaps less frequently, but importantly, we are called on as leaders to deliver a motivational message. Initiating a new project, pulling together to improve our deliverables, asking people to volunteer or donate money, or even hosting a retirement party; these presentations by their very nature need to appeal to the emotions of the listeners. Here are some keys to success when you are giving a motivational talk:

Tap into your passion. It is always important to believe what you are saying, but in a motivational talk it is essential. Why is this topic important? How has it impacted you personally, or your team or your family? What emotions do you have that you could use to fuel your delivery? When you identify your own feelings you can use them to inspire and motivate others.

Focus on what the audience stands to gain from listening and/or doing. It is crucial to remember—and stress—what it means to the listener. Put yourself in their shoes while you are creating and while you are delivering your talk. Isn’t it really about them anyway?

Create a powerful opening and closing, including a call to action. You must capture their attention at the beginning if you want them to pay attention and be moved. Tell a story, ask a question, or show a very short video clip. Make listeners feel something at the beginning and end. And don’t be afraid to call them to action; what is it you want them to do? Donate money? Work harder? Run a 10K for charity? Don’t hesitate to spell it out.

Take advantage of storytelling and human-interest aspects. We love stories, especially when the hero faces a big challenge and eventually wins the day. Make sure your story uses names, places and dialog to paint a compelling picture. Build some drama, then bam! A strong close.

Use quotes, video clips, music and photos to create emotional pull. Facts and figures are fine, but add in some color and emotion. What have others said? Show, don’t just tell what happened. Capture real faces and people’s actual words. Add some humor if you can.  

Don’t read your slides. Instead, engage the audience in a conversation. Ask them a few well-chosen questions to foster engagement. Break away from slides to add your reactions. Or consider skipping the slides altogether, and tell the story in your own words.

Include rational arguments and pertinent facts. Emotions are going to be crucial in a motivational talk, but you still need logic. Choose a few key facts that will make the most impact. Cite reputable sources. Maybe have just a handful of facts on your slides. Or consider using an attractive infographic just this once.

Script and rehearse thoroughly. Don’t trust this one to luck! Get a small audience to rehearse with you and go over it, start to finish, until you are sure it flows (but stop short of memorizing.)  If it is going to be recorded, rehearse until you are confident that you can speak from start to finish without a break.

Time it carefully so it doesn’t become a ramble. TED Talks are about 18 minutes long, or even shorter, so they are usually highly polished gems. Use a timer in each of your rehearsals so you know you are keeping to your time frame. Longer isn’t better in a motivational talk. 

Get an unbiased second opinion. Ask someone who knows your audience to evaluate your balance of logic and persuasion. Where is your logic weak? Which stories miss the mark? Where are the big moments you want to stress? Is your opening as tight and impactful as possible? Does your closing hit the mark? Don’t take this feedback personally; just keep polishing that motivational talk until it shines.

Motivational talks may be more demanding, and often take more preparation, but great leaders learn how to deliver them well. Consider this your stretch assignment; in the next 30 days do a motivational talk and follow these guidelines to make the most of the opportunity.