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How to Be a Motivational Speaker

I recently met with a guy who’s trying to become a motivational speaker. He’s a good guy with good things to say.

But the thing is … how should I put it … the whole motivational speaker branding doesn’t give a good first impression. It’s old-school at the best of times, and just plain awkward the rest of the time.

And yet, we all enjoy motivation and inspiration. I read Runner’s World every month not because I need any help running (nothing much changes in the world of running from month to month) but because of the inspiring profiles they print. You’ve got the woman who lost 300 pounds by jogging three times a week, the blind guy who ran a marathon with his son, and so on. I’m a sucker for an inspiring story.

So motivation is good—it’s just the branding of motivation that’s awkward. What’s to be done? My friend Colleen, AKA The Great Communicatrix, explained it best one day while we were hanging out in Austin a while back:

“You can’t just BE A MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER. No one likes that shit. What you should do is BE PASSIONATE ABOUT SOMETHING. Show up and talk about something you give a damn about. Your passion will be motivational in itself.”

I think Colleen’s right. If you want to be a speaker, you can go to Toastmasters meetings and learn how you are supposed to hold your hands, the right way to make eye contact with the audience, and so on. But I think it’s better to live an active life and figure out what you’re really passionate about. Then, talk about that.

You’ll get better as you go along. If you give a talk and forget something, if you say um or you know too much, if you break some kind of “rule” of speaking protocol, people will get over it.

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve on the technical things. It just means that the message is more important than the presentation. Between passion and presentation, passion wins every time.

“Motivational speakers” try to manufacture motivation, and this doesn’t usually work. Colleen’s way (the better way) is to introduce your passion to the world around you instead. The right kind of passion is both infectious and contagious. Motivation made easy!

How do you want to change the world? Why not take that thing with you everywhere you go?

Get that right first. Then, even if you’re only talking to one person, you just might be a motivational speaker.


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