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The problem with “Motivational Speakers”

3 February, 2015

The title of this post is misleading – deliberately so! The problem is not  with motivational speakers themselves (after all I am included in that category) …. the problem is with the misconceptions that can go with the label – as discussed in my previous post.

Most people hearing the term “Motivational speaker” would more often than not have an image of someone who talks about self-help and personal development. However many speakers who are lumped together under the label are business speakers – offering information, insight and “content” around their chosen specialty. Their aim is to be thought-provoking and stimulating – but not necessarily to “change” their audiences.

As I see it there are four distinct types of “motivational speaker”:
1) Achievers: These are the sports people and adventurers – Olympians, World Cup winners, explorers, mountaineers and others who have reached the pinnacle of physical endeavour.
2) Survivors: these are the people who have overcome adversity – or life changing illnesses, injuries or disabilities and gone on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
3) Thinkers: those who analyse and study successful human behaviour from an academic point of view, write books and blogs and are perceived as “thought leaders”.
4) Specialists: Business leaders and those who deliver “content” and insight based around an area of business expertise – whether this be sales, marketing, leadership, creativity, innovation, social media and so on.

These are broad categories … and many will overlap. So where do I fit in? As I haven’t won a gold medal or climbed Everest – and have lived a healthy, lucky life …  I overlap between 3 and 4!

Unusually, I am also an after-dinner as well as a keynote speaker. In an after-dinner speech the focus is clearly on the “entertainment” and not on any “message” (though for a business audience it is nice to include a reference to any topic that is relevant to the event.)

As well my after-dinner speaking I also deliver daytime conference keynotes under the umbrella title “Restless Curiosity”. These look at creative thinking and how our ability to generate new ideas is hampered by our cognitive biases – and how our brains are often reluctant to accept change. So while I am better described as a “thought-provoking” or a “stimulating” speaker … neither of those is as well known as the title “motivational speaker” hence I go along with it – despite the possible negative connotations!

I usually just prefer to call myself a “keynote speaker” which is much more open-ended.  Of course …  I like to think my speeches are indeed inspirational and motivatING … but without the baggage of a title that might be misunderstood! See this article from Forbes with another take on the subject: “There’s no such thing as a Motivational Speaker“.

To prove the point – here’s an example of a comment by someone who took a dim view of what he thought a “motivational speaker” was! (It’s also the best wake-up call I have ever had to “keep it real”!). It comes from the early days of my keynote speaking career when I was booked as the opening “motivational speaker” to deliver my “Restless Curiosity” talk at an “away day” for a public sector senior Management team.

I was shown a feedback form from delegates at the previous year’s conference where one question was “what sort of external speaker would you like next year?” One delegate had written “speakers who are relevant, current and practical – with no platitudes and tired clichés, no corporate mumbo jumbo or flavour of the month management gobbledegook…..”!   Wow! What great advice for any speaker! It is an assessment of motivational speaking I have always kept in mind when planning a speech!

So how do you find that perfect speaker for your conference?  Talk to a speaker bureau! They will be able to advise you on the best type of speaker for your event (and budget!) and will be able to offer you many options from which to choose, depending on the audience and theme of your event. Simply having an Olympian or well known “business leader” attend can often be motivating in itself!

If you are a motivational speaker – I’d love to hear your take on the above – especially if you disagree! Please use the feedback form below if so!

(PS pleased to say feedback from the senior management away day referred to above was very positive!  You can read a full description of it in my Case Studies HERE)

If you are looking for an entertaining keynote or after-dinner speaker – please get in touch to discuss your event!

Office:  +44 1453 828568
Mobile: +44 7774 675222

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