Quick tips on how to write a motivating speech like President John F. Kennedy
If you want to motivate and inspire your team or your company to achieve a mission, how should you say? What should you include in your speech? This is what we can learn from President John F. Kennedy's speech "We Choose to Go to the Moon".
We know Neil Armstrong is the first person on the moon, but do you know how he actually got there? Without President John F. Kennedy urged the Congress for financial support on the space program, Neil Armstrong might not have had the chance to say:
That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
It might have been someone from the Soviet Union to say it. Then we would not be familiar with the term "astronaut" as someone who is trained to go to space—we might call them "cosmonaut" instead because they are differentiated by where they are being trained. Cosmonauts are basically trained by the Russian Space Agency, while you can safely assume that astronauts are all other countries other than Russia. This year, however, we have a new addition, which is "taikonaut"—a Chinese astronaut.
During that time, America is not the leader in space, but the Soviet Union. They have successfully sent the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to circle the Earth in his Vostok spacecraft and returned safely that became the first human explorer in space.
This is why when President John F. Kennedy assumed office, he urged for the Americans to win the race to the moon. He sought support not only from Congress but also from the nation to achieve this goal of what he described is a political and economic battle between democracy and communism. In short, it is a fight for freedom.
On September 12th, 1962, he gave this speech of what we think would be a good lesson for us on how to write a motivating script when you want to call for action or even a belief and support from your team and your company for a mission that seems impossible to achieve, like going to a moon.
He started the speech by relating the city and the state for terms that meant "strong" and "hope". Note how he used words like "progress", "strength", "change", "challenge" and then used a contrast between "hope and fear" and "knowledge and ignorance" to hint the people that they should be on the right side of the story because they are strong.
We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.
He then went on to remind the people what the nation had achieved that they should be proud of and keep going:
Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.
He reminded the people that the competitors would always hope that they stop and rest, but the nation achieved what they had now not because they stopped, but because they kept moving forward:
So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.
He went on to press that if they wanted to be the leader of the world, they had to join the race, no matter they had the choice or not.
If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.
With a strong winner mindset, the President said if they were to join it, they needed to lead it because they represented freedom and peace, but not the enemy. He wanted the nation to believe that they did this mission for the world's betterment, a purpose that every American should join:
We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
He went on to elaborate on why they must win the race. It is because it is hard, and only a difficult challenge will bring honor to the country and the people:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Then he described the difficulty of the challenge in a very indirect way. It is a subtle hint that they are a part of this mission impossible that they should be proud and be bold:
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.
He then ended the speech by referring to the British explorer George Mallory to ignite hope in the people that there is something that deserves to fight for, which is knowledge and peace.
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
Generally, President Kennedy told the people in his speech of who they are, what the nation has achieved, and they should continue to do so for a purpose—not only to be the leader of the world but also for the greater good of the society for the search of knowledge and peace.
If you want to call to action through a motivating speech, this is something you can borrow from President Kennedy to inspire your team and the company for a challenge that you need the people to come together to conquer. Don't forget to use "we" instead of "I". The use of "we" signal that it was a challenge and pride that everyone should get involved in, but not for the President himself.
Watch how the President delivered the speech here: