How to give an inspirational talk


We’re always talking about inspiration. But what is inspiration exactly? And how do you create it? We asked Christopher Kabakis, a communications consultant, TEDx speaker coach as well as business coach, and co-courseholder of our Transform Creatively course that’s starting April 4th how to craft your storyline for an impactful and inspirational talk.


Etymologically, the word ‘inspiration’ comes from Latin “inspirare”, i.e. “in” and “spirare”, “to breathe”. To inspire meant to “blow into” or “breathe upon”. In the Old Testament, God breathes life into the man he had formed from dust by breathing air into his nostrils. Later it came to mean to “infuse animation”, or to affect, to rouse, to guide, to control, or to influence. So how do you inspire others, i.e. “put life and spirit into the human body”, or at least into your audience?


TEDx Berlin "The Next Step" im Berliner City Cube Foto: Sebastian Gabsch - - 0176-26487275
Photo: Sebastian Gabsch, TEDxBerlin 2014.


One thing for sure: you need to arouse emotions. Emotions are shortcuts or “heuristics” for processing information and responding to situations, predisposing us for certain actions. As emotion researcher Paul Ekman established, there are the six basic emotions: fear, anger, surprise, joy, sadness and disgust, which are universally shared in mammals. In highly social animals such as humans, emotions are more complex and include pride, shame, guilt, contempt, envy, jealousy, or empathy.


„Audience is trying to figure out what to do next, …“


Now, emotions are signs that people are involved with something in a powerful way. Being in a state of fear or anger, for example, means that the situation causing it, will be dominant in the audience’ mind. The audience’ is trying to figure out what to do next, meaning that their attention is engaged until the situation is resolved. Emotions also lead to better memorization, as well as better recall.


What if the situation is not “real” but just “told” to us in the form of  story?


As stories mirror real-life, our minds engage with them largely as if we were experiencing the situation ourselves. Our mind simulates the situation of the protagonist; his goals, desires and intentions. It creates a response as if the things in the story would happen to us. This is one of the reasons why we listen to stories so compulsively.


We feel inspired if someone tells us a story where the protagonist has enlarged his sense of being in the world. People thought that something was impossible but the protagonist sets out to achieve it nonetheless, against all odds. Overcoming obstacles, he achieves something previously thought unachievable. The result is that people in the audience, who have mirrored the protagonist’s experiences in their minds, are left with an enlarged sense of possibility “in the world”, or better: “in their world”.


Interestingly enough, the protagonist doesn’t have to be the speaker – It’s effective and inspiring as well when someone else is the hero of the story. One thing is crucial: that the speaker is perceived to be authentic & credible. So beyond the talk situation, the speaker has to build a reputation of being trustworthy. And during the talk: he speaks the truth and dares to be vulnerable.


„you’ll ‚breath into‘ your audience this state of possibility, re-assurance and optimism called “inspiration”



Do you want to give a talk that has the potential to inspire others? Tell an authentic story that engages emotions and leaves the audience with an enlarged sense of possibility. However, don’t try too hard or set inspiration as the main goal of your talk. You might undermine your effectiveness if someone perceives you as inauthentic or manipulative.


Your story doesn’t necessarily have to be something that has already happened. Even though it helps if you can anchor your story in a shared experience that has already occurred. You can also deliver a vision of how the world could be, while giving the audience the confidence that this future or vision is possible or can be achieved. Usually you’ll recount stories of the past, appealing to shared values and goals, and give analogies to arouse that confidence and sense of shared purpose. If you are successful, you’ll “breath into” your audience this state of possibility, re-assurance and optimism called “inspiration”.


Interested in learning creative ways to apply change in your life and business environment? Christopher joins Patricia Cotton, a business transformation expert, to hold the course “Transform Creatively” at betahaus | Academy.




More course information click HERE, you can book the course directly HERE

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