A leadership speaker’s toughest challenge may be facing an audience in need of inspiration when the clock is ticking. How do you say the right thing—what people need to hear—in a short amount of time? It’s a challenge that speaks to leadership on a daily basis, too. No one has a lot of time. We live at lightning speed. We grab the quick tips that make the most sense. So…
In a drive-thru and drive-by culture, how do we package our message and guidance for the greatest meaning and relevance to our employees, our sales teams, our children? Let’s look at how some notable leadership speakers pack a resonant message into a short time frame. In this season of graduations, a couple of commencement speakers demonstrate how to deliver inspiration so it sticks.
1. Chuck Pagano, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts pro football coach gave a short locker room leadership speech as he was battling leukemia. “You refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously, as a team and as a family, to live in a vision,” he told his team after they beat the Miami Dolphins by three points. “I’ve got circumstances—you guys understand it, and I understand it. It’s already beat. And my vision that I’m living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings, and then hoist that Lombardi [Trophy, given to the Super Bowl champions] several times. I’m dancing at two more weddings, and we’re hoisting that trophy together, men.”
How he inspired quickly: He targeted their core identity as a team, empowering them to look for the positives in every challenge. He showed them how he was doing the same thing in his personal life. He showed them how a detailed vision, grounded in a strong value like family milestones, can be their engine. In just a few sentences, he made every player on his team feel like his own family, and know that he believed in them like he believed in himself.
Key tip: Model your empathy.
2. Jill Abramson, 2014: The New York Times executive editor gave a 13-minute commencement speech at Wake Forest University earlier this week. Her window was short: The previously-scheduled speech came only a few days after she was fired as the editorial leader of the most powerful newspaper in the world. Under intense scrutiny of her own profession, her focus was her attitude in the face of failing. Abramson recalled her dad, a college dropout, proudly attending her graduation from Harvard. But behind the scenes, “It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. ‘Show what you are made of,’ he would say…. “Some of you—and now I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped—have not gotten the job you really wanted or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school. You know the disappointment of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of.”
How she inspired quickly: She spoke to the fear of rejection that haunts many successful people, and gave them her own example of how to persevere. Like Pagano, relating her message through an authentic family story made her leadership example more real.
Key tip: Use failure to point to success.
3. Steve Jobs, 2005: The Apple/Pixar genius gave a 15-minute leadership speech that has been viewed almost 20 million times on YouTube. Considering how much his designs changed how we live, 15 minutes was a short window for imparting his wisdom: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life…. “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle,” he told the crowd. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary…. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
How he inspired quickly: Jobs spoke directly and descriptively about his mistakes, what he learned on his unorthodox path and what listeners should do in response.
Key tip: Make your call to action crystal clear.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.