Why I Hate Motivational Speeches

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Brace yourselves, because I’m about to get real: I think motivational speeches are a scourge on the world of public speaking. And no, I’m not some pessimistic humbug misanthrope. I’m actually an optimist who firmly believes in the power of personal development and growth! And that’s exactly why I hate motivational speeches. Or, to be specific, I hate bad motivational speeches. And the vast majority of them are bad. But don’t worry, I’ve got a solution.

Consider this - 99% of all motivational speeches discuss one or more of 3 core themes:

1) Be Yourself

2) Follow Your Dreams

3) Don’t Give Up  

Yet we live in a world full of people who struggle to fit in despite their yearning to be unique, and who gave up on their dreams long ago because someone (or perhaps even themselves) told them it would never happen. It’s outrageously common, despite the overwhelming number of speeches discussing these exact themes. What gives? Are there just not enough motivational speeches in the world? Are our audiences just not smart enough/dedicated enough to make these changes? Or could there be a deeper, more insidious problem at hand?

I believe that the vast majority of motivational speeches have become so cliché, watered down, and overdone that people have instinctively stopped listening.

Motivational speeches have become white noise that are getting tuned out by the masses.

Many aspiring motivational speakers are so focused on pursuing their own dreams (which is good) that they’ve completely forgotten about their responsibility to their audiences (which is bad). As in, they’re using regurgitated messages and ideas because they’ve stopped trying to deliver something unique and valuable to their audience. They’re so much more concerned with booking the gig, winning the Toastmasters contest, or being on stage and getting applauded that they haven’t taken the time to really reflect on what authentic, unique thing they bring to the stage. I get approached all the time by aspiring speakers and we have this exact conversation:

“It’s my dream to be a professional speaker. I want to be the next Tony Robbins/Les Brown/Oprah.”

            “Okay, why do you want to be a pro speaker?”

            “Because it’s my dream.”

            “Why?”

            “Because I want to achieve big things!”

            “Why?”

            “Because I never give up!”

            “Okay, then what unique and powerful thing will you bring to your audience?”

            “Uhhh….the message that you should never give up??”

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Writing speeches that don’t suck starts with the planning. Use this FREE guide to help you out!

The TEDx version of this conversation is people who want to give a TEDx Talk for the sole purpose of furthering their brand/building their business. Which is decidedly not an idea worth spreading. There is nothing in this conversation about what the audience gets out of all of this. It’s entirely about the speaker pursuing their own goals and dreams, and the audience happens to be an accessory there to offer up applause. But if I’m in your audience and you’re taking up my valuable time, then there damn well better be something in it for me!

Adding to the problem is the overwhelming number of speaker coaches who are more than happy to work with speakers who haven’t figured out what their value proposition is. I see coaches who focus exclusively on delivery, like how to walk around the stage and project the voice, but they gloss over the fact that the speech itself is weak and boring. Ugh. I get it guys, getting a new client is always exhilarating and we’ve all got bills to pay. But the most glorious delivery doesn’t compensate for a meaningless speech.

People sitting in the audience are not dumb, they can instinctively tell when someone is selling them a false bill of goods. We connect with people on an emotional level, and if the speaker is pitching us a warmed-over message that we’ve heard a thousand times before from many other speakers, then we tune out at best, and get annoyed or resentful at worst. You took up my precious time to deliver me a speech that just sounds like a collection of inspiring Instagram posts??  

But there is a bright spot. We can do better. We can get real.

If you are a speaker, ask yourself why are you doing what you are doing? Why is it your dream to pursue this career path? Why do you want to speak in front of audiences? If all of your answers involve your own desires and goals, then you’re delivering an empty product. If you think you have to change your core self to achieve this goal, then you are simply playing an empty part on stage. But if you are willing to be yourself, your deeply flawed and vulnerable self, and you’re willing to talk about the things the audience may be terrified to hear (but they crave nonetheless), then you may be one of the speakers who can cut through the white noise of bad motivational speeches and truly make a difference.

And since I believe that all change starts with yourself, I’ve decided to commit myself to only coaching speakers who are dedicated to delivering their most authentic, purposeful signature speeches. I will always focus on the value-proposition to the audience first (why else are you on stage??) and delivery only as a way to enforce that message. I will commit to teaching my clients how to teach, because at its core public speaking is a form of teaching and the most successful speakers know how to educate (Don’t believe me? Well two out of three of 2018’s winners for the Toastmasters International Speech Contest are teachers!)

Humans are incredibly complex beings, with rich emotional and spiritual lives. There is still so much to explore about the human condition that we’re ignoring by simply presenting the same watered down ideas over and over again. Together, we can bring meaning back to motivational speeches. We can deliver unique perspectives, stirring narratives, and resonating messages that will actually make an impact on the people who are listening to us.

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