We’ve all suffered through terrible motivational speakers before. When you were a baby your parents gave you foul-tasting baby food like squashed beets and pretended it was delicious, but they were lying and now you hate the noble beet in all its various forms. I’m also pretty sure you’ve been in the audience at a conference and said to yourself, “If that guy says the word accountability one more time I’m going to rush the stage.” It’s unavoidable – some motivational speakers are terrible.
But you don’t want to be. You’d like to be awesome, the kind of awesome that might someday get your grateful citizenry to erect a statue in your honor. And so, if you want to be a great motivational speaker of any kind, whether as a paid professional or simply as someone others turn to when they need help and advice, here are five things you absolutely must have:
Enthusiasm – I’m sure Ben Stein is a fine person, although he’s never sent me a Christmas present. I’m also sure he’s very knowledgeable about a lot of interesting things. But the only thing he could ever possibly motivate me to do is leap over however many people stood between me and the exit. The main secret to being an enthusiastic speaker is being passionate about whatever it is you’re talking about, but practice doesn’t hurt either. Fun tip – if you practice your speech while walking around the neighborhood, absolutely nobody will bother you. Because nobody bothers anyone who’s talking to themselves.
Not Too Much Enthusiasm – If you end every sentence with an exclamation point, you will simultaneously dilute the power of your most important points and make your audience want to fling stress balls at your head. If EVERY OTHER WORD is spoken with FULL CAPITAL LETTERS, you are REALLY GOING TO annoy people. And if you never blink – I mean, like, never blink – you’re going to make those closest to you think that you’re contemplating eating them. There is such a thing as too excited.
The Ability to Speak Like a Normal Person – This might just be a personal thing, but I deeply dislike motivational speakers comparing me to a walrus or a bowling ball or anything else like that. Metaphors should be simple, obvious, and ideally rooted in common experiences – learning a new language, sibling rivalries, sports team dynamics, etc. The Walrus Principle might look weird enough on a book cover to make people pick it up, but it’s not a sincere way to talk to others. Oh, and try not to repeat yourself too much. There’s a difference between ‘emphasizing a point’ and ‘beating the crap out of it.’ Because nobody – nobody, and I mean nobody – repeats themselves very much in real life. Nobody does. Nobody. You hear me? Nobody.
The Ability to Look at Things from Someone Else’s Point of View – I heard a motivational speaker once begin his presentation by telling his audience how worried he was that his new seaside mansion might get damaged by an approaching hurricane. If you happen to be talking to the Association of Gorgeous Seaside Mansion Owners, then go right ahead. Otherwise it’s just going to make you sound like you aren’t really that interested in the issues of the people you’re talking to. Remember that you are trying to help other people achieve greatness, and that will give you the guidance you need to find the right ways to share your messages.
The Strength to Pick a Side – You will never please everyone who listens to you. When I was a 23-year-old high school English teacher, I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the fact that I was unable to prevent several of my students from skipping school or caring enough about their grades to turn in their assignments, and so I left teaching. Now, more than a decade later, I am able to accept the fact that some of the people who listen to my presentations don’t like them. If you try to be all things to all people, you will never be as good as you could be. Tell people what has worked for you, show them how you found your particular success or overcome your particular challenges, invite them to follow in your footsteps, and accept the fact that some of them will see you as a giant waste of time. If you’ve done your job right, that group will be a distinct minority.
I hope this has helped. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get started on my next book, which I’m thinking about calling The Walrus Principle. Because lately my tusks have been killing me.