If your presentations, speeches, and your words in general are inspiring to others—or if you yourself are deeply inspired by the words of another—it's just a matter of time before someone emerges to dismiss the importance of such inspiration. It's just a matter of time before someone will try to bring you down. They will demean your enthusiasm, optimism, and hopefulness as symptoms of shallowness. Inspiration is OK, but "too much" inspiration is inconsistent, they will say, with the idea of serious content and a serious message. This, of course, is complete horseshitake.
What got me thinking about this was the tight political contest across the pond in the USA between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that I read about on the daily train ride to the office. Over the last couple of weeks Obama's highly praised speech-making skills and even some aspects of his message of hope and change have come under attack it seems. Attacks on his record and experience are fair game, but it's ironic that Obama's amazing oratory skills are belittled by some as unimportant—and worse that they are just a symptom of a man without ideas or a plan. You know, a man who is all hat and no cattle, as they say. Logically this does not follow. A man can be articulate, engaging, inspiring and have important content. But my point is not to discuss politics here, of course, but simply to address this issue of emotion, inspiration, and communication in a way that relates to our own lives as business people, academics, researchers, and leaders of all kinds.
Many will say a man (or woman) who speaks well, who is articulate and full of hope, enthusiasm and positivity, is an empty suit. They will say emotions do not matter. All that matters they say is content, period. All the matters is evidence, period. Ironically, the very people who demand that content and evidence are everything and that emotion—and certainly inspiration—do not matter in "serious presentations" rail against the importance of emotion and engaging delivery in a manner that is completely emotional and heated. I know this because I have confronted such people many times. They say it is simply the quality and structure of the information and that delivery and personal qualities—as well as simplicity and beauty in visual design—are just not that important or necessary. The point that such people miss is this: no one ever said delivery and emotion and connection were everything or that they were sufficient. We've only ever said that they were necessary (and all too often lacking). Emotion and great delivery are not sufficient for presentation success, but they are necessary in almost every case. Solid content is a necessary condition, of course, but it's almost never sufficient, not when we are talking about leadership and communication. And if you are talking about trying to lead a movement, trying to change the world, then you sure as hell better be an inspiring figure. You don't have to be slick or polished, you do not have to be tall or good looking, but you do necessarily have to connect, inspire, and motivate. That's what leaders do.
Don't let the bozos get you down
I am not suggesting blind allegiance to an idea, a stubbornness which prevents you from seeing the issue from all sides. But when it comes to this issue—of people dismissing your hopefulness, positivity and most of all your ability to inspire those around you (your team, your coworkers, your students, whomever)—the motivation behind such dismissiveness comes from insecurity or just plain ignorance. Guy Kawasaki might call such people bozos, and remember Guy's mantra: Don't let the bozos grind you down. Now, honest critique of your ability is important. If you can find a coach who can be objective and straight with you, not just praising you all the time, then you are very lucky indeed (sometimes this mentor is a teacher or a manager). Mentors and coaches are great; we need them. But as you become better and better at anything—especially if you become great at it—people will try to dismiss your talents and accomplishments. And if you are inspiring and articulate, they may go after that too. A similar idea is captured beautifully and simply below by Jessica Hagy in this chart from Indexed (Jessica's book Indexed is out in a few days).
Search for inspiration, do not wait for it
Motivation is essential, but somehow different from inspiration. Fear, for example, can be a powerful motivator. Fear of failure can even motivate you out of your chair to go outside (or for a run, etc.) in search of an idea, in search perhaps of inspiration. Some people dismiss inspiration because they say you just have to work hard through the tough times, inspired or not. I hear that. Motivation is sometimes hard, but inspiration is far more illusive. Everyone is searching for inspiration whether you are a medical doctor or engineer or artist or teacher. We need the inspiration and hope to keep us moving forward and improving even in the hard times. It is easy to misinterpret inspiration as something you wait around for to happen to you. This is not the best way and it rarely works out. Inspiration is something you have to search for. Don't wait for it, search for it. And when you find it, embrace it, and don't let anyone take it from you. It's yours. Don't underestimate the value of inspiration and do not apologize for becoming profoundly inspired or in inspiring others. Inspiration is what makes life worth living. Inspiration is not everything—you need great ideas, and action, and hard work too—but genuine learning and growth and real change come to those who are inspired.
(1) Never apologize for your enthusiasm, passion, or vision.
(2) Never apologize for being inspired by another human being.
(3) Seek out inspiration (don't wait for it).
(4) Inspire others by sharing your talents and time.
(5) And no matter what: Don't let the bozos grind you down, ever.
The world needs more inspiration, not less. Speaking is not the only way to inspire—actions inspire too, often more—but leaders know how to inspire with both words and action.
• Management Craft: 10 Ways to Inspire Others
• Top Ten Ways to Inspire Others to Be Their Best
• Impress and Inspire Others Without Saying a Word
• 5 Inspiration Hacks for Creative People
• Obama's "Yes We Can" speech on YouTube
• "Yes We Can" video by The Black Eyed Peas