Writing Motivational Speeches — How to Create Impact with Stories

Motivational speeches persuade audiences to take particular course of action or adopt a behaviour, usually in the area of personal development and performance.

When writing motivational speeches, stories can be powerful tools that make your message more credible and memorable for several reasons.



motivational speeches


Why use stories in motivational speeches?

Stories are an indirect way to show your audience that taking action is the right thing to do. People love to listen to a good story. By using relevant stories in your motivational speeches and presentations, you bring your message into reality and give it an emotional element. If you simply tell your listeners to take an action without a good story to support it, you won’t be as effective in motivating them.

How professional motivational speakers use stories and quotations in their motivational speeches

We’ll now look at a few examples to see how well-known writers have used stories and quotations to motivate their audiences.

In ‘Destiny in Balance’ from Lead the Field, Earl Nightingale uses stories to support his message.

One morning, I was having breakfast in a restaurant in Monterey, California–one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. Suddenly, I was aware of the young couple sitting in the booth next to mine—they couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. It was obvious that they were very unhappy. The young man was saying: “Well, I’ve tried everywhere, but nobody wants to give me a job. I guess we’ll have to go back home.”

It was apparent from their attitudes that they wanted to live on the Monterey Peninsula, but they were almost out of money and unable to find work. But he had said, “Nobody wants to give me a job.” He wanted someone to give him something—in this case a job.

What might have happened if he had turned the whole idea around? What if he said, instead, “What do I know how to do that will serve some of the people of this beautiful part of the world?” Or, “How can I, or we, be of value to this community?

“The people here will be happy to supply us with the living we need if we can think of some way to serve them.” If we can think of some way to serve them. “What do they want or need or want that we can supply. Do they need a handyman, a first-class housekeeper, or both? Can we wash and wax cars right in their driveways? Can we detail their cars so they look like showroom display models? Let’s buy a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen and start making a list of all the things we can do to earn a living here. It will give us time to of other ways, more profitable ways. But that wash-and-wax idea might grow into quite a service for the community. And let’s not stop there. Let’s think of some more ways we can start right here to be of service to the people who live here.”

Right then and there in the restaurant, instead of being depressed and considering themselves failures, they could have come up with a dozen or so ways in which they could have remained on the Monterey Peninsula and built a fine business for themselves. They didn’t need a job: they needed to think. But they had never thought before. It was as foreign to them as speaking Urdu.

There they were: two fine, bright, good-looking young people with two fine minds. A world of opportunity was beckoning to them, and they were going to go back home. No one had ever told them about the gold mines they carried between their ears.

Do you know how many people would have reacted in the same way these young people reacted? Most of the people in the United States—or any other country, for that matter. People will do anything in the world—even turn to crime—before they will think.

The motivational talk is about the importance of service and thinking of ways to serve others. The story, which makes up a small part of the talk, reinforces this key point by bringing it into reality.  (You can listen to audio samples from this excellent motivational program here).

Stories are also an important ingredient in motivational books and articles. In the motivational classic Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill uses the following story to show the importance of persistence.

Three Feet from Gold

One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat. Every person is guilty of this mistake at one time or another. An uncle of R. U. Darby was caught by the “gold fever” in the gold rush days, and went west to DIG AND GROW RICH. He had never heard that more gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth. He staked a claim and went to work with pick and shovel. The going was hard, but his lust for gold was definite.

After weeks of labor, he was rewarded by the discovery of the shining ore. He needed machinery to bring the ore to the surface. Quietly, he covered up the mine, retraced his footsteps to his home in Williamsburg, Maryland, told his relatives and a few neighbors of the “strike.” They got together money for the needed machinery, had it shipped. The uncle and Darby went back to work the mine.

The first car of ore was mined, and shipped to a smelter. The returns proved they had one of the richest mines in Colorado! A few more cars of that ore would clear the debts. Then would come the big killing in profits.

Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and Uncle! Then something happened! The vein of gold ore disappeared! They had come to the end of the rainbow, and the pot of gold was no longer there! They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again-all to no avail.

Finally, they decided to QUIT. They sold the machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars, and took the train back home. Some “junk” men are dumb, but not this one! He called in a mining engineer to look at the mine and do a little calculating. The engineer advised that the project had failed, because the owners were not familiar with “fault lines.” His calculations showed that the vein would be found JUST THREE FEET FROM WHERE THE DARBYS HAD STOPPED DRILLING! That is exactly where it was found!

The “Junk” man took millions of dollars in ore from the mine, because he knew enough to seek expert counsel before giving up. Most of the money which went into the machinery was procured through the efforts of R. U. Darby, who was then a very young man. The money came from his relatives and neighbors, because of their faith in him. He paid back every dollar of it, although he was years in doing so. Long afterward, Mr. Darby recouped his loss many times over, when he made the discovery that DESIRE can be transmuted into gold. The discovery came after he went into the business of selling life insurance.

Remembering that he lost a huge fortune, because he STOPPED three feet from gold, Darby profited by the experience in his chosen work, by the simple method of saying to himself, “I stopped three feet from gold, but I will never stop because men say ‘no’ when I ask them to buy insurance.”

Darby is one of a small group of fewer than fifty men who sell more than a million dollars in life insurance annually. He owes his “stickability” to the lesson he learned from his “quitability” in the gold mining business.

Where do you get stories for your motivational speeches?

In the first example, Earl Nightingale overheard the couple complaining that they had failed in their goal to live in Monterey, California.  In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill had heard Three Feet from Gold from a relative of the man who stopped three feet from gold. The best stories to use in motivational speeches are often the ones we hear and experience. The key is to be aware of what’s going on around you and to look for the lessons in these events. Some writers keep a story file of the interesting things they see or hear.

Besides the stories we hear about and experience, we can search for stories that support our motivational message. Reading regularly in the subject that you wish to speak about will help you find stories for your motivational speeches.  You can also look for relevant stories when watching films and television programs. Searching on the internet using the right keywords will help you find stories for your motivational speech. The time-consuming part is finding the story that best fits your motivational speech message. It’s also a good idea to do some fact checking to make sure the story is true because many hoaxes and urban legends are found on the internet.

Avoid overused stories in your motivational speeches. For example, one popular story explains how Thomas Edison tried 10,000 ways to create a light bulb before succeeding. It’s a great example of persistence but it has been used too many times in motivational speeches. Other examples include the stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul . When the book was a best-seller its stories were often used in motivational and inspirational speeches.  If you use a story that has been heard many times before, you risk losing the attention of your audience and your credibility as a motivational speaker.

Michael Gladkoff