Motivational Speaker FAQs

Kelly SwansonLooking for a great motivational speaker?

Motivational speakers are a dime a dozen, and finding the right one can be an overwhelming task. You need to know that they are as good as they say they are, and you need to know that they will be a good fit for your audience. Not all motivational speakers are created equal.

Here is a good article on whether motivational speakers add to the bottom line:

Motivational speaker Kelly Swanson in Indianapolis getting a standing ovation

(Read this blog post The Magic of Motivation Done Well where I point out what made a recent four-hour program work like magic.)

I get regular calls from prospective meeting planners who want to know how a motivational speaker can fit into their event, and what value do I (or any motivational speaker) bring to their conference. Here are a list of questions that I regularly answer, and I hope that this discussion can help you put on the best event possible for your participants.

Q: Our participants need content/education/CEUs, so why should we get a motivational speaker?

A: Without a doubt, attendees go to conferences to further their professional education. However, your conference participants can only absorb so much information. An inspiring motivational speaker might be just what your conference needs to re-energize your attendees, getting them excited about putting their newly acquired knowledge into practice.
Many people underestimate the value of motivating people. It’s not a lack of information that holds most people back – it’s a lack in motivation. All the skills in the world will not make up for an unmotivated employee. But get an employee who is passionate about what they do, and teaching them the skills is a snap.

Motivational speakers deliver content, but are even more focused on delivering an experience – speaking to the emotions of the listener (where the true change occurs) rather than just the mind. Motivational speakers are concerned with how their audience feels. And motivational speakers (or rather, the good ones) are just as concerned with the “show” as they are the content. So if getting people to come to your conference is important – then who you choose to open and close that conference is vital to future attendance and the reputation of your event.

If people just wanted information, they didn’t have to leave their house or their computer. Hold your speakers to a higher standard than simply the transfer of information.

Q: How can we best use a motivational speaker?

A: I normally recommend slotting a motivational speaker as either the opening or closing keynote (or both!). Having a motivational speaker as the opening keynote speaker gets your participants revved up for the conference. Placing the motivational speaker at the end of the conference leaves your attendees with a positive impression of the conference, going out on a high note.

I would also recommend that you know what you mean when you ask for an inspirational or motivational speaker. Take some time to spell it out for yourself, and for your potential speaker. We all use the terms “motivational” and “inspirational” to the point where they don’t mean much anymore. Be able to define what that means for you and your group. Are you looking for someone to encourage? To show the audience that they can do this too? Are you wanting high energy? Laughter? Do you want the attendees to feel appreciated for their role in the organization? Do you want it highly entertaining with the content delivered in fine strokes, as opposed to someone reading a Power Point? Are you looking for the show too? What kind of personality are you looking for – that would best suit your group? The truly great speakers are those that stand up and stick out among the other “scripted” speakers – the ones who are selling a personality. Take the time to think these things out. You’ll be glad you did.

A note about celebrity speakers: Please understand that just because a person is a celebrity, does not mean they are a good speaker. I have seen big names deliver horrible speeches. While it’s great to fill the seats, it’s also great to deliver a wonderful experience at the same time. My advice to meeting planners is to schedule the celebrity in the middle of the conference, rather than the opening or closing. Unless you already KNOW that the speaker is terrific. I know you want to end with a bang, and keep everybody there until the last minute so they can see the big name. But if that big name delivers a horrible experience, you have closed your event on a low. And I’m not sure that’s a risk you want to take. Put the celebrity at lunch, where the expectation is lighter. Put the best speakers you have at the end, and at the beginning. Those are the most remembered moments in your event.

A note about authors: Just because someone is an author, even a best-selling author, does notnecessarily translate into them being a good speaker. I have heard many meeting planners lament because the author they booked to speak was boring, and did nothing more than read from her book. Authors are not necessarily professional speakers. Be careful not to make that assumption.

Q: We are thinking of going with someone funny this year. Is that a good idea?

A: It’s not just a good idea, it’s vital. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a comedian. FUNNY SELLS. It’s one of the best experiences for an audience. Give it to them as much as you can. Simply ensure that the humor is appropriate and is put in the right places in your conference. A funny speaker with very light content would work well as an opening or closing keynote – or at lunch – or after dinner – or anywhere you need to break up a bunch of boring sessions and highly technical information. Funny emcees are a super idea because it allows you to have humor injected throughout the entire event. Don’t be afraid to ask your speaker to serve as emcee. Remember that the opening and closing of that conference are the two most important moments – fill them with laughter and you can’t go wrong.

And don’t assume that just because a speaker is funny means they don’t have content. The good ones have learned to wrap that content in humor. You shouldn’t have to choose between teaching and entertainment. I believe both can be delivered simultaneously. And should.

Q: How much should I expect to pay for my motivational speaker?

A: That depends on your budget, group size, and the scope of work. Speakers fees range everywhere from free to $30,000 – and more for celebrities. The general rule is that you get what you pay for. You will be limited by your budget. Many speakers negotiate, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Q: There are so many motivational speakers. Where do I find them, and how do I choose?

A: Ask around…

  • Contact other groups who might have heard this speaker.
  • Get referrals.
  • Find any way to hear this person speak if you can. If not, find someone you trust who has heard them.
  • Don’t be afraid to look outside the standard speaking world – to the entertainment and art world. Storytellers are great. Comedians are great. Musicians are great. Pastors give good speeches. Just be careful and educate them on what you want them to do.
  • There are plenty of listing services online that list speakers and entertainers (SpeakerMatch, GigMasters, GigSalad, etc). And it’s always a GREAT idea to check out the National Speakers Association and the state chapters – all of which have speaker directories and bios.
  • Find out how long the speaker has been working. Did they just start yesterday, or have they been at this for years? If there is a lot at stake, I would not want to put a new speaker into a keynote slot – and I also wouldn’t want to put the speaker who’s been doing it for 50 years, unless I knew that they were fresh and cutting edge.
  • Look at videos of the speaker IN ACTION. Videos don’t lie. Look past the fancy bells and whistles and canned laughter. Go straight to videos of them in action – so you can see them doing what they do.
  • Read and contact their testimonials – especially those who are similar to your group
  • Examine their marketing materials but don’t be swayed by them. Good promotional materials are a sign of a polished, experienced speaker. However, more than one meeting planners has been tricked by a slick brochure.
  • Talk to the speaker at length. If they don’t return your calls in a timely manner, move on. They are obviously not interested in earning your business. Have a detailed conversation with the speaker about what you want, and how they might fit. I always say that the personality of a speaker off stage is a strong indicator of what they’ll be like on stage. Why not hold a Skype interview with the speaker and your committee? Ask your speaker to give you some pieces of their speech – to show you what they do.
    Remember that you get what you pay for. If you only have $200, don’t expect a $5,000 speaker.