I’ve heard countless motivational speakers, but through listening to seven speakers an evening at many MoMondays in Toronto, I have figured out the magic formula.

425005_448235901864570_1713657901_nI realize that most people don’t expect to build a career or business on motivational speaking. But anyone who talks to more than one person at a time can benefit from these techniques.

The MoMonday events, which are spreading to other North American cities, mix people who earn their livings as keynote speakers with folks who look they have never before held a microphone. Between acts, the old friends I bring and the new friends I make at our table chat about who we like best.

Secretly, I think most of us would love to be reality talent show celebrity judges or at least  phone in our votes. But impresario Michel Neray knows that turning motivational speaking into a competitive sport would deter people like to the teacher who moved us about the joy of amputees in Rwanda or the young wrestler who let us feel her jubilation at winning an Olympic medal.

Still, it seems natural to compare when you hear so many speakers back-to-back. Because they talk for only 10 minutes each, I can pay close attention. From several MoMonday evenings, here are the six tips I’ve come up with for aspiring motivational speakers:

  1. Tell a story. Lists, acronyms and other presentation techniques do not work in motivational talks. Your point, the motivation, will flow from the story.
  2. Include enough details so that we can relate but not so many that we are grossed out. For example, the speaker who disclosed his childhood sexual abuse told us just enough that we could feel his pain and marvel at his forgiveness. The woman who complained generally about her crappy year did not win our sympathy or entice us to follow her formula for success.
  3. Be funny. Almost all the best speakers have opened my heart with laughter, then punched me in the gut with their truth.
  4. Paint pictures. I can still see the woman who talked about making a successful sales call in a cat woman costume. Seeing as PowerPoint is not available and props are seldom used effectively, the speakers chosen by my judging panels rely on their words to create lasting images.
  5. Avoid “early Oprah,” as fellow judge Leslie called it this week — woo-woo words, pseudo scientific jargon, meaningless certifications and other high-fallutin’ terms most of us are reluctant to admit we don’t really understand. Plus “early Oprah” does not mix well with alcoholic beverages and macho men.
  6. Be yourself. Often the professional speakers are not as compelling as the amateurs. Our judging panels set the bar higher. We usually roll our eyes, shake our heads or mutter “too slick.” We don’t want to hear a canned talk you have given to thousands; we want an intimate conversation with you.

Of course, it’s easier to judge than do. So today I submitted my speaker application for MoMonday.

From my first ballet recital at four to my recent gigs motivating people to write like they talk only better, I love an audience. But can I win over this crowd? What will those celebrity judging panels say?

Got any advice?

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Six tips for motivational speakers

7 thoughts on “Six tips for motivational speakers

  • May 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Barb, as a paid speaker and former journalist I think this is an apt list AND key to a successful talk is first stepping into the shoes of the audience to address one of their hottest needs or interests, up front, via a question, what-if scenario, offer to help or other way of proving that the talk is about them, not you

  • May 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    That is a terrific point, Kare. Thanks for sharing from your wealth of experience.

  • May 3, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I think you’ve nailed the basics on this formula and are in good shape to start preparing for your own spotlight. I agree with Kare’s point and on a similar note I’d add: Make it not all about you. The description of Cold Call Catwoman’s surprised prospect and another speaker’s grandfather added depth and credibility, which reflected positively back on the speaker.

    • May 3, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Good point. Your story has to be about you, but you have to be able to make sure it’s about something your audience can relate to. Thanks

  • December 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Having been a teacher and speaker before my stroke, you have hit the nail on the head. Deal with the “elephant in the room” right away and with humour to show that you know about it.

    Now that I “talk funny” I deal with it by saying something funny about it to show that I’m ok with my disability (see my website) but I haven’t spoken to a large group — yet! Right now I stand up and speak in every group (that’s me – I’ve always loved the spotlight!) for a few reasons- to show everyone that someone with a disability can do things and to be seen for me – not my disability.

    Also, I agree with Kare that just like everything — in business, you have to use the word “you” and show that you know something about your audience and care about them.

  • February 13, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Hi Errol, i met you in the bank this morning and rlealy enjoyed chatting with you! i am on the same path as you just reading some of your articles. am busy listening to a cd by Skip Ross at the moment which is all about slaying the giant of fear which is in all of us. i am involved with Network 21 who put out a continuing education program which is fantastic and very motivational. if you are looking for lifestyle changes for yourself and your family these are the people you need to be around. a very positive, energising bunch who are making a big difference in the world. have you heard of N21? if you would like to hear more about them, give me a shout. thanks for the chat today and will continue reading your posts. kind regards, Bev

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