The Secret to Motivational Speaking

I hate it when people claim they have the secret to all of your problems – like the secret to weight loss, or the secret to hair renewal, or the secret to making a million dollars without lifting a finger, spending a dime, or leaving your house. These secrets are secrets all right, in that nobody’s ever heard of them before. What they don’t tell you is that the reason nobody’s ever heard of them is because they don’t work. And here I come along claiming to have the secret to being an effective motivational speaker. But I don’t know what else to call it, because while it isn’t anything new, most speakers out there haven’t grasped the key to writing and delivering a motivational speech that actually does what it promises – motivates people.

It’s tough to motivate people, always has been. Even Jesus wasn’t able to convince everybody, and he could walk on water. So who are we, as motivational speakers, to seriously think that our words will affect the course of someone else’s future? Then again, I have met many successful people in the course of my life, whose futures took a drastic turn as the result of one person’s words. So here we stand – motivational speakers with a story to tell and a passion for telling it. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck at having a story to tell, and don’t take it any further than that. If all you care about is telling your story for the sake of telling your story, then you have some ego issues to work out. If your story is so fascinating that everybody needs to hear this because they’re just not going to believe it, then take it to Lifetime or Oprah.

I believe that stories are meant to be shared with others for more than simply giving us the opportunity to show what happened to us and how we dealt with it. While the story may be all about us – the story isn’t really all about us. It’s about them – the one hearing the story – the one affected by your story – the one you so desperately want to help with your story. Someone told me recently, “I have a story, but who cares?”

“Make them care,” I answered.

So give them a reason to care. Show them how your story helps them achieve something. As a motivational speaker you may be paid to come tell your story. But you are also paid to come affect your audience – to give them something to take back. You can probably still be a good speaker if you just come and tell your story well. But you can be a PHENOMENAL motivational speaker if you can come tell your story well, and make it about them at the same time.

I started out as an entertainer and spent years putting on a show and entertaining people. Then I became a speaker and I started studying other speakers – looking for techniques that I could incorporate – techniques that got them standing ovations. I quickly learned that giving a good performance was not enough. This was a different world. This wasn’t the audience looking in on my performance like they would in a theater; this was the audience participating in my performance. And therein lies a world of difference. I began looking for the answer to that difference.

It finally hit me when I attended the National Speakers Association’s Annual Convention – the perfect place to study the best speakers in my industry. I quickly saw that there are a LOT of talented motivational speakers out there. But there are some who rise above – some who bring the audience to its feet, or even to the point of standing on chairs and yelling. I began to see the difference when I watched from the eyes of the audience.

I remember walking out of Simon Bailey’s speech. I had never heard of him, but after he spoke I knew I would never forget his name. His words had impacted me more than anyone else that day. Was he more talented than the others? No. Did he have a more exciting story? No. In fact, I don’t even remember what his story was. Did he do neat stuff with the music and lights? No. In fact, I think he just sat in a wing-back chair. So, why was he different? Because when I walked out of there, I felt like I could conquer the world. I felt like he had seen straight through to my soul. I felt like he was up on that stage speaking to me and me alone, telling me what I was destined to hear at that moment.

That was it. It wasn’t about him at all. It was about me. My impression of his speech was a direct result of how I felt leaving that room – not what I had learned – but how I felt. Not how I felt about him, but HOW I FELT ABOUT MYSELF. To this day, I still believe that is the true secret to being a powerful motivational speaker – your ability to go beyond what you make them think, to how you make them feel.

There is no question that my speeches changed from that moment on. Once I realized that it wasn’t just about my performance, but how I made them feel about themselves in our time together, I saw a drastic difference in my audiences’ reactions. The number of standing ovations increased tremendously. (Standing ovations should not be the manner in which you evaluate yourself but they sure do help.)

Too many speakers are still stuck in that place where they are telling you all about themselves – their story – their achievements. They don’t take it to that crucial place where they bring the audience into it – where they show the audience what that story means to them. Where they make you care.

So how do you do it? I’m sorry, but there aren’t ten quick and easy tips. This isn’t even about tips. This is about your motivation when writing and speaking. This is about what is going through your mind when you sit down to craft that speech. I know, I know, you need a list – we live in a world addicted to lists – articles are supposed to be about three things you can start doing on Monday. But being a successful motivational speaker isn’t as much about technique, as it is about having a heart and a motivation to help others. If you keep focused on that motivation, it will affect what you say in your speech. I’m not trying to change the way you talk – I’m trying to change the way you think.

How about starting by asking yourself this question: How do I want my audience to feel? And then make a list of all the things you want them to feel. Do you want them to feel encouraged? Excited? Eager to take action? Proud of what they’ve done so far? Do you want them to feel like their mistakes don’t define them? Do you want them to laugh? Cry? Feel empowered? Make a list of all the emotions you want them to have. Then write your speech, trying to craft your words to evoke these emotions. Not sure it worked? Share your speech with a friend and then ask them how it made them feel. This is going to take work. A lot of work. But being excellent at what you do always takes work.

So remember that motivation is not about education. Motivation is about emotion. It’s not what you make them think; it’s how you make them feel.

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