Sometimes The Speech Isn’t About The Speaker

In addition to being a motivational speaker in the business community, I’m also a motivational speaker in the church community.  I learn many lessons about the art of motivational speaking from my church audiences – lessons that can apply to anyone in the business of motivational speaking.

I was speaking to a group of three hundred women at a church. I always feel more pressure when speaking in a church because, well duh, it’s His house and I can’t help but feel like He’s got a front row seat. So I spend a LOT of time thinking (i.e. stressing) about the message I deliver in a church setting. I was telling a new story (my Starfish story for those who’ve heard it – I know, I love it too) that focuses on themes like forgiveness, redemption, and small acts of kindness bringing big kingdom returns. The message doesn’t really matter for the sake of this learning lesson. What matters is that I worked really hard crafting just the right message for this group, hoping that they would be blessed and hear what they really needed to hear. In fact, that is normally foremost on my heart when planning a speech – that the audience hears what they need to hear.

So I’d made it through the story in one piece (it’s tough because it’s a twenty-minute poem) and I’m at the powerful ending of the story where the woman finds love and forgiveness and remembers the words of the song her mamma used to sing to her as a child from the old hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” For some reason, this time I decided to sing it, which is so unlike me because I can’t sing. But I felt like singing, so I did. (Sometimes it’s those things we do spontaneously that make our speeches unforgettable.)  “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll,” I sang.  It was a very powerful moment already, but even more so when at that very moment three hundred women joined in and finished the song with me. I still get goose bumps remembering that sweet moment and no
amount of planning could ever re-create the magic of it. The audience had given me an unexpected gift in a moment that wasn’t planned to begin with.

The show ended and I’m standing in the back hugging necks and letting them tell me their favorite parts. I noticed one woman standing back waiting patiently for the others to leave – a familiar sight which usually indicates that someone needs a personal moment with me. And I believe that as a motivational speaker, you owe it to your audience to be there after the show to give them those personal moments they need.

The room clears and I am standing there facing this woman who has patiently waited for over thirty minutes to tell me something. Her eyes are red and swollen and she is having a hard time staying composed.  For a moment we just stand there in silence, staring at each other – two strangers oddly comforted without the presence or need for words. It was the type of moment that women understand. She takes a deep breath and says, “My husband just passed away. And I am having a hard time dealing with it.” My eyes fill with tears and I nod as we simply hug. Sometimes there are no words, even for a speaker.

“I just miss him so much,” she whispered. “And I’ve been asking God for a sign – just a small sign. And tonight, you gave it to me.” I start to nod, for I am used to hearing people tell me that my words were what they needed to hear. I’m wondering which part, which story, which words. And, I must admit, a little pleased (maybe better to say thankful) that my choices had proved to be the right ones. “It was the song,” she said. I was surprised to hear this. The song was really an afterthought, just an added piece of flavor in my opinion that had certainly taken no skill on my part. And certainly not something of my own planning. “Those were the last words that my husband sang to me before he died. That was my sign,” she smiled with tears in her eyes. She told me how that hymn had been her husband’s favorite and that he sang it to her right before he passed away. The same words that were sung to her that night by three hundred women, prompted by nothing but their hearts.

That was one of many moments that humbled me as a speaker. It reminded me why I do what I do. It showed me that what we send out often comes back tenfold. And that even though we’re the ones up front, it’s really not about us at all.

I hope that my story today will show you something about yourself as a motivational speaker. Maybe you got the sign you’ve been looking for. And my choice of words had nothing to do with it.

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