How To Inspire 5000 People In 5 Minutes

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I gave my first university commencement address yesterday. And then, two hours later, I gave my second one. (The first was for the graduate degrees; the second was for the undergraduates.)

Speaking to an audience of 5,000-plus people is a cool experience and a big responsibility. It requires years of experience speaking to hundreds of smaller audiences. It’s not for amateurs.

At least, that’s what I thought.

That’s what I thought until I heard the speeches from four of the graduates (two per ceremony). They were eloquent, they were inspirational, and they resonated with every person in the arena.

As far as I know, none of these four speakers had ever given a professional talk in their lives. And yet they held the attention of those thousands of attendees like a pro.

Why were they able to do this, and how does it apply to you?

They each did this by doing two things:

  1. They told their own, authentic story.
  2. They related that story directly to the audience.

Although each of the four stories was different, they each talked of overcoming obstacles to achieve a greater goal: their diploma. And, despite the differences in the details, every other graduate in that arena could relate the speaker’s journey to their own.

Part of #leadership is overcoming obstacles to achieve a great goal. #commencementaddress #graduation #inspirationalleadership Click To Tweet

I see far too many leaders who don’t want to tell their story. Instead, they speak in statistics, quotas, and assignments. Their attitude seems to be, “Why do I need to open up my life to them? They know what they’re supposed to do, and as long as they keep doing it, we’re fine. Besides, nobody wants to hear my story.”


Your team does want to hear, and be inspired by, your story. Think of nearly any great leader in literature and history. King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malala Yousafzai. They all struggled to overcome obstacles in order to achieve a greater success.

Your team wants to hear your #story! #leadership #commencementaddress #graduation #inspirationalleadership Click To Tweet

“Yeah, but if I tell my team that I struggled, they’ll see me as weak.”

Interesting. Do you mean “weak” like King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malala Yousafzai?

It’s the struggles that make you strong. It’s the overcoming of obstacles that makes you inspirational. It’s the achievement of the greater success that makes you a leader whom your team will want to follow.

A leader who has never had to struggle — who has never faced the pressure of overcoming a difficult obstacle — can never inspire his or her team to overcome their own challenges, doubts, and obstacles.

A #leader who’s never struggled can never inspire. #leadership #inspirationalleadership# #leadingateam# #producingunderpressure #pressure Click To Tweet

Each of the four graduate speakers yesterday spoke for five minutes or less. And in those five minutes, they demonstrated what true leadership is. They came across as strong, and brave, and confident.

Isn’t that how you’d like to come across to your team as well?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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