5 strategies for speakers and leaders

What makes you say after a speech or a presentation: “Wow, that was inspiring!”?

Inspiration. We know it when we see it, but it’s hard to define. It’s different for all of us, and yet, I do believe that there exists a pattern for inspiration.

To start with: of course, the basics need to be right. Almost nobody finds a talk with a nervous speaker or without structure inspirational. Sentences like “I know it’s hard to read, but what we want to show here on slide 34 is the detailed overview…” are not truly inspiration boosters. For those of you who mastered the basics of giving a talk and want to be truly inspirational, I created the concept of the 5 H of Inspiration:

Head, Heart, Heavy Duty, Humor and Hand!

I share with you concrete strategies on how to put this concept into practice. This post goes through head, heart and heavy duty. The next post, that will be published next days, will be about humor and hand.


This is all about the ‘WoW’ factor; of appealing to the mind so that your audience is fully engaged and feels like they are learning something new.

Strategy: Have a new look on known content

If you do your audience analysis well, you often find they share ‘common knowledge’. Just repeating or slightly expanding on this common knowledge is not inspiring (“We will see digital disruption” “Oh, really?”).

Take instead a different approach and give a different perspective: an unknown data point, a wow factor something unexpected on a known content. Warren Buffett is a master at this, when he for instance shared:

“I will tell you now that we have embraced the 21st century by entering such cutting-edge industries as brick, carpet, insulation and paint. Try to control your excitement.”

Boom. Immediately you are intrigued, need to understand it further, think about your assumptions. That is appealing to the head and a first step for inspiration.


Putting your heart in your talk is all about openness and connecting to the human side. This is the true core of inspiration. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “To handle yourself – use your head – to handle others – use your heart.”

Strategy: Show authenticity & vulnerability

There is an interesting reaction in almost all audiences I have seen: Although nobody likes a bad speaker, people also often don’t like the overly polished speaker, the speaker who is smooth and perfect. Because the latter often leaves an artificial feeling.

In speech preparation, this is a tough one, as one, of course, wants the speech to be great. A great speech simply requires a lot of preparation. My key tip is to still show vulnerability and authenticity: Build several moments into your talk where you naturally have to open up. One of the best ways to achieve this is via personal stories.

Think about how your content connects to your personal life and then use for instance the Pixar story structure: Once upon a time there was___; Every day, ____; One day, ____; Because of that, ____; Because of that, ____; Until finally, ____.

Author Carmine Gallo estimates that powerful presentations that have been rated inspirational have 60-70% of personal stories as content. That might be on the high side, however, in my leadership talks, I always try to build in at least 2-3 personal experiences from having been a leader of others.

Heavy Duty

This is all about the deep feeling of something larger than us. Inspirational presenters regularly tap into this feeling.

Strategy: Have a positive vision of the future

Happiness researcher Nick Marks did an interesting thought experiment during his TED talk. He let us recall Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I have a dream”. And then he asks: What would have happened if Martin Luther King would have said instead: “I have a nightmare”? MLK probably would have had all the reasons to make this statement but we can easily see that the impact of his speech would have been lower if he had.

Leaders have a positive outlook for the future, and inspirational speakers show a way out. That doesn’t mean everything is sugar-coated and whitewashed. But there needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel for us to feel inspired. As the saying goes: “Seeing the positive in a negative situation isn’t naive, it’s leadership”.

That’s all for today, stay tuned to know more about humor and hand, we will publish the second post next week!

In the meanwhile register for the next course Lars Sudmann will hold in Brussels the 15th of April:


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