Recently I gave a motivational keynote to an HVAC company who is struggling to reach a new sales target. This company is a subsidiary of a parent company that hired me 5 years ago to do a four city motivational speaking tour to all their dealer networks. The marketing team of the larger company had recently taken over marketing for their smaller upstart business unit.

When we conducted the pre-sales call, the head of marketing said, “Alden, our teams are still finding motivation from your keynote five years ago – we need you to do the same for this team.

My motivational speaking business is word of mouth, either repeat clients or clients that have heard about me from either production/event planning teams or from other clients (or the stakeholders have switched companies).  Getting a motivational speech to “land”; “hit the mark”; “make a difference”; “be exactly what the Doctor ordered”; “drive an action” or the numerous other sayings clients use to describe their desired outcomes of my keynote, requires activating what I call: The 3 C’s of Motivation

Motivational speakers get their start from one of three areas:

  1. Unique Story
  2. Known Expert
  3. Storyteller with a Message  

A unique story could be a remarkable story of survival or winningest person in a sport. There are lots of amazing stories out there and many people who have experienced them try their hand at motivational speaking. The second group are people who have done lots of research on a certain topic that can connect the dots on how to succeed. The third group, which is where I put myself, is “story teller”. Yes, I have had some unique experiences as an athlete (but didn’t win an Olympic Gold medal); as a Navy SEAL (but didn’t take down Osama Bin Laden); started multiple companies (Not biggest or most cutting edge technology) but I know how to tell engaging stories with memorable messages for people to refer to when the going gets tough…when your organization is doing something it’s never done before, then the going ALWAYS gets tough.

Regardless of where a motivational speaker starts, their longevity in the business isn’t based on where they start is based on how they bring the 3 C’s of motivation to life for their audiences.

#1. Connect – Do the Work

It doesn’t matter how great your life-experience was, if you can’t relate it to the audience and help them understand how the story can inspire them in the future, then your story is simply entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, many keynote speakers are just that, entertainers and there’s a great role of entertainers at conventions.

But if you’re looking for your audience to take an action - other than laugh or cry – if you want them to take a risk to try something they haven’t done before then you need to motivate them.

And motivating an audience requires doing the research in advance of your keynote to understand how to connect with them. Audiences come in all shapes, sizes, mindsets, cultural backgrounds, languages to name just a few differences. Find the commonalities that will cross their differences to connect them to your story. Take them on journey. Think of it like you are in a boat together. Are you going to be the Captain that barks orders at them? Or are you a Captain that’s coaching/teaching/nudging them to take an action that they can all do.

To make these kinds of connections with audience means you must be willing to take risks on stages. You must improvise on the fly; learn the audience’s language; know what “demons of doubt” they are battling. Once an audience knows you’ve done your homework, they will give more of their attention to for the second “C” of motivation.

#2. Construct an Actionable Keynote = MOTIVATION

Before you step on stage, know EXACTLY the goal you seek to achieve. Many want to be motivational speakers think their presence is all they need – that their story is the goal. Sometimes that maybe the case – a big name to get “butts in seats”.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard over the past 10 years about how some celebrity bombed in a big way on stage because they were not prepared, rambled on, no coherent message and left the audience wondering “what was the point of their message?!

Motivational speaking requires not only connecting with the audience but generating actions that get them to sit-up, think and then decide, “I CAN!”.

All motivational speaking comes down to driving the action of “I CAN”. Motivation’s enemy number 1 is a mindset of “I can’t”. Build your keynote backwards from what the event owners want the audience to do. Do not step on that stage until you and the event owners are crystal clear on the action you want the audience to take. Once you know the action then build your keynote with no more than 3 ‘mini’ actions that will inspire the audience to believe in themselves – you want them thinking “I CAN!” – that’s what the third C is all about.

#3. Create Reasons to Believe

Landing a plane on Hudson River, being the lone survivor, winning numerous Olympic Gold medals, running a country, or writing numerous best sellers gives you lots of credibility for an audience to listen to you, but it doesn’t guarantee they will believe in themselves to take an action that the event stakeholders what them to do.

The motivational speaker creates reasons for them to believe in themselves with the lessons learned from your story.

Too many motivational speakers assume their story’s lesson learned is obvious (me included!). Only tell a story if you have lesson learned that you believe is helpful to driving the audience to the desired outcome. Telling a story just for story-sake is can be a waste of the audience’s time. Remember, you have a responsibility NOT to waste the audience’s time. The moment they feel you are wasting their time is the moment you’ve lost them, and when you lose them, it is very hard to get them back.

Make your story engaging, but make sure the lesson associated with the story is actionable and easy enough to use that will drive the audience to say to themselves: “I can do that!”

There is rhythm to motivational speaking, like a song, symphony or movie, a great motivational keynote takes the audience on an emotional journey. You must coordinate your story’s emotional up’s and down’s with the learnings you are trying to convey to the audience. The better you get at your craft of motivating others the more you’ll be able to feel the audience’s connection to you and what you are trying to communicate. In much the same way a rock star can connect with an audience (and vice versa), the same can happen when motivational speaking to the smallest or largest audiences.

Give a Little Bit More...

Connecting, constructing and creating reasons for the audience to believe in themselves to take an action is an awesome responsibility.

Go All-In, give it all you got, and when you don’t think you have any more to give – then give a little bit more and watch what will happen, you’ll get clients telling you five years later they still find motivation in your message…and that’s the greatest joy and compliment you can get from being a motivational speaker.


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Remember, We Are All Born to Be Unstoppable

It is our Choice to Be Unstoppable. Check out our Resources and Courses to develop the mindset and actions required to thrive and accomplish more than you originally thought possible. And if you have any questions about motivational speaking, just drop me a line!