“Motivational speakers are like Chinese food. You’re hungry an hour later.”
Ever hear that one? Somebody is eating at the wrong Chinese restaurant if they’re hungry an hour later, and if the motivational speaker left you wanting, he or she wasn’t very good.
Why are motivational speakers the butt of jokes and criticism? Like any profession, there are some caricatures of professional speakers who deserve the rap. They may not “live in a van down by the river” like the Chris Farley character on Saturday Night Live, but they either don’t speak well or don’t say much worth listening to.
But don’t throw the motivational baby out with the bathwater (to mix a metaphor).
Motivation is a critical part of success and already a significant part of everyone’s life. To succeed at anything—personally or professionally—you need the what, the how and the why.
The “what” is accurate information. The most well intentioned person still needs to know what to do to achieve their goals.
The “how” is ability. That comes from teaching and training. It is frustrating to try snow skiing without taking any lessons. In the same way, trying to do a job without skills is just as discouraging.
The “why” is the motivation. Knowing what and how to do something is worthless with compelling reasons that cause one to act.
A good motivational speaker doesn’t just provide the why, but lots of informational speakers and even some trainers give the what or the how but ignore the why and nothing happens as a result of what a person has learned or heard.
A great motivational speaker designs his or her program to meet your needs so you audience will leave with a clear picture of what needs to happen, either the ability to do it or more likely resources they can use to learn how AND, importantly, the drive and desire to act.
Motivation provides a motive for action. And a terrific speaker understands both their craft and the audience enough to do the same.
Is everybody motivated after a speech? You tell me: does everyone love their neighbor better after a sermon? Of course not. But many do benefit from both the reminder and the inspiration to do so. Few things in life impact everybody the same way. I know a guy who exercised regularly and still died young, but that doesn’t keep me from exercising for the simple reason that many of not most people benefit from exercise.
Have you ever read or heard vitriolic comments about motivational speakers from employees? Does that keep you from engaging a speaker?
Consider: why might an employee be so upset about a motivational speaker? Here are the obvious reasons: it was the wrong speaker, speaking for the wrong reason at the wrong time.
A cheesy motivational speaker is like a cheesy comedian or cheesy salesperson: off-putting. You get what you pay for.
And any time you make an employee hear a speech to “fix them” they’re likely to be resistant. The context needs to be one of encouragement and development rather than punishment and discipline.
And if you just laid off 25% of your workforce, for heaven’s sake don’t bring in a motivational speaker to make everyone feel better. They will probably need motivation later, but after a traumatic event they need counsel and encouragement.
How do you pick the right motivational speaker? The same way you hopefully pick a doctor or a lawyer or other service professional.
First, look at his or her credentials. What certifications do they have that demonstrate mastery? (The National Speakers Association certifies speakers with the CSP: certified speaking professional designation. For more info go http://www.nsaspeaker.org).
Secondly, what are the speaker’s experiences? Don’t look only at what they say; look at what they’ve done. Have they practiced what they preach, and have they achieved the kind of success that you or your team would aspire to achieve? I speak and write on leadership. In addition to being a current practitioner, I’ve been elected to lead two national organizations in my life. The best ideas I bring my audience are born out of experience, not theory.
Thirdly, examine their client list. It isn’t likely that lots of credible, successful companies are going to keep hiring an ineffective speaker for their events.
By the way, I’ve never called myself a motivational speaker. My publisher likes to put that in the dust jacket of the books I write (most people think that any speaker who gets paid must be a “motivational speaker.”) Am I motivational? I have files of letters from organizations and individuals that evidence that I am. But what I have been proud to call myself for the past 24 years is a professional speaker: someone who makes their living communicating ideas to enrich the lives of listeners. And that means giving people the what, the how and the why.
I know the “motivational speakers” on this website. Not only are they skilled orators, but they’re successful people. They’ve excelled in their given areas. I’ve learned from them and I know you will as well.