Working in the consulting, seminar and keynoting business, we receive a good number of calls from clients looking for a "motivational" speaker. I often struggle with that terminology. Very early in my career, I attended a number of programs which featured a "motivational speaker." I was very fortunate to sit in the audience as a vast number of iconic characters took the stage to stimulate, motivate, and change lives. I remember with great fondness many of those who did this very successfully on a regular basis ... Zig Ziglar, Denis Waitley, Wayne Dyer, Earl Nightingale, Robert Schuller, etc.

Many of these great talents are still very active today, and I’ve had the privilege to meet several of them later in my career. This impressive list has grown over the years to include such notables as Tom Peters, Tony Robbins, and several others who possess the fire and brimstone to wake us and shake us into action.

I remember the days when the fire and brimstone was enough. I’m not certain if that’s true any longer. Today, we need something to take us beyond our car in the parking lot of the auditorium where the rally was held. The very competitive and global marketplace requires much more of us now. We truly need proven tips, tools, and strategies that are easily understood and readily applied.

Interestingly enough, almost all of these successful speakers authored best-selling books to support their messages. I always found it intriguing to ask others what they thought about a live performance or best-selling book. It wasn’t that far-fetched to ask five people for feedback and receive comments such as:

  1. "No value whatsoever."
  2. "Didn’t care for it."
  3. "Really liked it."
  4. "Truly loved it."
  5. "Decided to live it."

Now when you review those responses to a speaker, his/her message or book, would you say he/she did a good job or a poor job? I think you must admit that the speaker did at least a good job of providing good information. If not, the last three responses would never have materialized. However, upon closer observation, I think you must admit that the majority of the responsibility for success lies not with the speaker/author but with those who receive the message. What they did with the information they received made all the difference.

One common thread I think I’ve heard every "motivational speaker" share with those attending their programs is the fact that we CAN’T motivate people. Accept that fact. True motivation must come from within. All we can do is create a culture, environment, and opportunity for our employees to motivate themselves. This leads to a number of challenges:

Hire the right people initially. Are we investing enough quality time in this area?

Provide the proper expectations, informing our people about self-motivation.

Hold staff accountable for C.A.N.I. (Continuous And Never-ending Improvement).

Provide both positive and negative consequences to insure continued growth and necessary change when and where needed.

Provide the proper on-going training and development necessary for continued success.

For all of the reasons above, we try to avoid giving the impression that we’re going to provide a speaker who will run into the audience, yell, scream, walk on hot coals, balance on a 2 x 4 prior to swinging on a rope, perform magic tricks and send your people back to you ready to conquer all challenges currently facing your organization.

We customize a message for your audience that will assist them in dealing with your current challenges ... a message that will provide them with tips, tools, and strategies that have proven to be successful by a vast number of organizations across industries. We’ll use humor, props, interaction, and the most current information available to support the focused message that will best benefit your staff. However, that’s not enough today. We need you and your total support if you want the very best ROI available.

Prior to bringing us in:

Inform your staff why you chose our organization. We can help you with that message.

Inform your staff why you chose this particular subject. We can help you there as well. It’s critical that your people know you have expected outcomes of this training.

Clearly inform your staff of your expectation concerning their contribution to and participation in the program.

Request that they return from the program with at least three, preferably five, key learning points, which they feel can immediately be applied in the workplace for obvious results.

Request that they return from the program with at least three ideas, suggestions, tips, tools or strategies to share with their immediate work group in the spirit of shared learning. It has been proven time and time again that sending a staff member to a training program with this expectation results in better concentration and comprehension as a result of his/her effort to identify those three elements requested to share.

Upon return, "inspect what you expect" by insisting on the follow-through described in your earlier request. If you don’t do this, you’re sending a message that your future requests can be ignored.

Upon return, discuss the program and content with your staff. What did they feel was immediately applicable to your organization, what should be further pursued, who else should attend, what should be added or deleted from the program, what are some "next steps," what "targets" should you focus on next, etc.? This conversation with you will send a very positive message to your team concerning your concern for their future growth, feedback, success, etc.

Following the above formula will insure a much greater degree of success. Partnering with your speaker prior to and following your program will definitely create the "motivational" climate you desire to achieve. Can you afford to do otherwise?

Author's Bio: 

Harry K. Jones is a professional speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a firm specializing in custom-designed keynote presentations, seminars, and consulting services. Harry has appeared all over North America addressing topics such as change, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork and time management for a number of industries, including education, financial, government, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing. He can be reached at 800-886-2MAX or by visiting

Motivational Speaker: A Misnomer? was originally printed in the "Resources" feature for the AchieveMax® Blog.

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