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Inspiration matters

Inspiration_matter 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.

Audience_clap 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.

That's life
Hope_child 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
Indexed_book 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
Cannonbeach 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.

In Sum
(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



Thank you for writing this post. People who inspire us need all the encouragement they can get. Leading is difficult, especially when the person leading champions something innovative, original, and daring. Without those who can inspire us to move in the face of the new and unfamiliar, human beings would still be living in caves.


Thank you for writing this post. People who inspire us need all the encouragement they can get. Leading is difficult, especially when the person leading champions something innovative, original, and daring. Without those who can inspire us to move in the face of the new and unfamiliar, human beings would still be living in caves.

Richard Michie

A very inspiring piece in it's own right. Reading through the book and loving every page. Even the typesetting is perfect, Zen in everyway.

Jeremiah Hill

Great stuff. I struggle with that suspicion of inspiration every day---which is sort of sad since I'm a teacher, but that's part of what's wrong with the educational culture in the US. I have no idea whether it's similar in other countries.

Paul Montwill |

Garr, nice post. It is challanging to be an achiever as many people will try to bring you down (usually are the ones who don't move from their couch).

Good point: Never apologize for your enthusiasm, passion, or vision.
Too many times I felt guily for being enthusiastic and passioned. But as you say, inspiration needs to end with actions.

"...cause were living in a world of fools
Breaking us down
When they all should let us be"


Spot on! Very early in my career, I had a senior manager tell me, with a grave and obviously disapproving expression, "You are very passionate in presenting your view." Some other well-meaning folks actually advised me to hide my enthusiasm.

Fortunately, two decades have failed to reform me.

Peter Lynch

Garr, you continue to capture amazing thoughts in your posts...nice work!

If you have ever worked for someone, then you have experienced this. It is good to keep the perspective that if people are trying to hold you down or marginalize you; it is probably because you are doing the right thing.



A few days ago I was watching Bill Moyers Journal, one of the few intelligent talk shows on U.S. tv. Bill was interviewing Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter who has lived and worked in Afghanistan since shortly after 9/11, helping to rebuild their society. Near the end of the interview that portrayed her experiences working under seemingly impossible circumstances, Moyers commented that we sometimes walk a thin line between hope and folly. Ms. Chayes' answer left a big impression on me:

"I don't think that hope is relevant. I think determination is all that counts. You just have to try. It doesn't matter if you hope you're going succeed or not. You have to keep trying."

The transcript and video of the interview are available here:


Actually, I think they say "all hat and no cattle" down in Texas. That means you're a fake cowboy. No saddle would mean you're a tough cowboy, I guess.

Not that this has anything to do with the meat of your excellent article. . .


What a great post! I needed that because I am feeling anxiety about a presentation that I have to give tomorrow night. I will read this again right before it is time.

Justin Knabb

Outstanding post! Thanks for writing what so many of us have been thinking throughout this entire Obama campaign. Whether one supports Obama or not, his "movement for change" and overall message of hope is a true breath of fresh air. Leadership is about connecting with others, and Barack Obama has been outstanding at this. In his own words, "in defense" of his inspirational movement:

"We've been warned against offering the people of this great nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."


Just wanted to mention that if haven't had your dose of inspiration today then seek out this clip of Dustin Carter.
Thanks for your post.

Pamela Slim

So well said Garr, and so true!

I had a client a number of years ago that used to berate me for being "too positive and supportive." Ironically, this was in teaching presentation skills. There was another instructor that I would team teach with occasionally who fit more of what he was looking for: she was condescending, rude and sometime outright cruel in her critique of beginner students.

My client felt she was the model to aspire to. I could never do it, and stuck to my guns. Over time he came around to my perspective when he saw better results from the students, and better reviews of my class. I think life is filled with enough people who try to take you down. When working with someone, why not try to help them from a place of inspiration? I have never known fear to be a powerful source of SUSTAINED great performance. Sooner or later, you crack under the stress.

Many of the "bozos" you describe are just acting out of their own fear. It is good to treat them with humility, but stand strong in your conviction that love and hope truly do conquer all.

Thanks for the great reminder!

the Weir

Nice one, Garr.

Really appreacite you framing these observations and keeping it balanced. I echo Pamela's sentiment of treating *bozos" with humility - we can all be operating based on what our experiences have been.

Anyway, thanks.


Inspiration is important, but so is substance. There's nothing so discouraging, i.e. the anti-inspiration, as to discover something or someone is all talk and no walk!

I'm from Illinois and active in politics. I have first hand experience as his poorly served consitutent.

When you call Obama's office he can't take a position because it goes against his "see which way the wind is blowing" "offend no one" "take no position" triangulation. Call his office on the day of an important vote and his staff can't tell you IF he will vote or what his vote will be.

If you wanted to know how he was going to vote on funding the war in Iraq in '05 or '06 and you'd get a bunch of 9 pages of gobbledeygook about who knows what but you can't tell what's his position was before he voted for funding the war. No joke! I have the 9 page blah blah blah response still.

Inspiration works best when it's backed by substance!

I WISH we had better candidates running for president because we need a real leader. Obama, Clinton, McCain, and the rest are a disgraceful excuse for what this country has to offer.

Fancy shmancy words and no spine doesn't make a leader. Obama is fluff.

Lisa Braithwaite

I feel lucky that I've always been an optimistic, positive, encouraging and inspiring speaker and educator, and I've never been berated or judged (at least to my face!) for those qualities.

There are enough naysayers in the world. I vote for more optimists!

I just wrote a short article about the difference between a speaker who inspires temporarily and a speaker who inspires the audience to take action for change. It's about giving value along with inspiration:


very nice post. this was certainly an interesting read on this quiet day in the office.

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