The answer to ‘what makes a great motivational speaker?’ comes in the combination of having a unique story to tell and the ability to share it in a moving, engaging and transformational way.
There are few people who would disagree that good public speaking is an art and great motivational speakers take that art to another level. Those who can deliver an effective one-off motivational speech are few and far between and those who can make a habit of being a great motivational speaker are even more rare.
Great motivational speakers will both have little and much in common. They have little in common in that a great motivational speaker will almost always need to have a unique outlook derived from an unparalleled journey or experience. Those who can be regarded among the best motivational speakers are from backgrounds as diverse as it is possible to get and represent an expanse of experiences.
However, it is in the qualities they share that it is possible to categorise what truly makes a motivational speaker great:
Authenticity makes for a great motivational speaker
A motivational speaker can only be great if they are credible and have an authenticity borne of experience. Just being a charismatic speaker is not enough to make someone truly inspirational.
Whilst one individual can be perfectly capable of performing the two arts of delivering a motivational speech and keynote speech or conference speech, to evaluate what makes a motivational speaker great it is necessary to understand the difference and what a motivational speaker really is. A great motivational speaker has learned and lived their lessons and will weave their own story into the address they are giving.
Founder of lingerie brand Ultimo Baroness Michelle Mone can talk with authority about building a business from the start point of a simple vision, about making it in business with no formal qualifications and being a mum in the workplace because she has been there and done it.
A great motivational speaker has an extraordinary story to tell
The most compelling motivational speakers are those whose personal stories leave an audience gaping, discussing and considering.
NMP Live books Olympic medal winners, survival experts, the most successful entrepreneurs and individuals who have achieved the extraordinary in the face of adversity.
Great motivational speakers are individuals you want to ask ‘how did you do that?’, ‘what kept you strong?’, ‘what kept you fighting?’, ‘what challenges did you face and how did you bounce back?’
These are stories such as those of climber Kenton Cool (pictured top) – the first person in history to climb the three Everest peaks in one climb and the only Briton to have skied down two 8,000 metre mountains. And war veteran Simon Weston CBE, who sustained major injuries when his ship was bombed and destroyed during the Falklands War, in 1982. Watch a short clip of Simon below, speaking at a dinner.
Great motivational speakers are amazing storytellers
A great motivational speaker draws their audience into their worlds, their past and their experiences.
In the 45 minutes or so that a motivational speaker holds court, the audience will know how it feels to stand on the starting line waiting for the gun to fire for the 100m final at the Olympics, what it is like to reach the summit of Everest or how it feels to look back at earth from space.
A great motivational speaker allows the audience to feel the nerves, get a sense of the sweat, the exhaustion, the desperation and, ultimately, the triumph.
A great motivational speaker cares about and considers their audience
A truly exceptional motivational speaker will also be a good listener and will take the trouble to understand the purpose of them being booked to speak. They will have an understanding of who their audience is, what messages the person who booked them is hoping to deliver, what the audience will already have an understanding of and what will be alien to them.
A great motivational speaker will also be capable and willing to tailor and adapt their speech depending on their audience.
A roomful of financial analysts may be able to learn as much about leadership from Sir Clive Woodward OBE, who managed the England rugby team to victory at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, as a delegation of rugby players.
Whereas there would be an expectation that the players would understand the finer technicalities of the game and nuances of the sport, though, the analysts may not. Each audience may well benefit from the same message, but is likely to require it to be delivered with differences in language and explanation.
That said, while a great motivational speaker will adapt their speech, they must also be able to deliver the same story, repeatedly, time and time again, with the same passion and conviction as if it were the first time.
A great motivational speaker is relatable and can make their message relevant
The experiences of a great motivational speaker may be totally beyond the realms of the experiences of an audience, but we all identify with the same emotions and struggle with similar issues.
An audience may have no background understanding of what it is to be a soldier in a hostage situation, like Chris Moon, or an Asian minority actor, like Riz Ahmed, but they may well have a shared understand of what it is to face fear of failure, anxiety, bereavement or sense of helplessness.
A great motivational speaker will enable their audience to empathise with their experience and draw comparisons to challenges they themselves have faced or are facing.
Great motivational speakers inspire change and have powerful take-away messages
To motivate is, literally, to provide someone with a reason for doing something or cause them to have the enthusiasm to do something.
At the core of what makes a great motivational speaker will be that ability to inspire change, whether it be in terms of changed thinking or changed action.
A great motivational speaker provides powerful take-away messages and memorable action points.
Olympic rower Ben Hunt Davis often tells in his addresses of the mantra his team had which supported their success. As the team’s ultimate goal was to have the fastest boat and win the race, every decision came down to ‘will it make the boat go faster?’. If the answer was ‘no’ then they didn’t do whatever it was they were deliberating.
The same can be applied in business, to whatever is the end goal. It’s a very-easy-to-remember phrase that delegates will take away and apply.
A great motivational speaker will interact with the audience
Great speakers don’t just deliver their talk, walk off the stage and leave the building.
If the schedule allows, they’ll hang around to chat to people in the following coffee break, join them for the buffet lunch or invite a question and answer session.
As great motivational speakers are inevitably impassioned learners, those opportunities are not just opportunities for the audience to find out more and further connect with them. They are also opportunities for the speaker to discover ways to further improve their talk or to consider their own experiences in a different way.
How to find and book a great motivational speaker
Trying to identify the perfect motivational speaker for your message and audience, within the budget you have, can be a bewildering process.
With two decades of experience and a deep knowledge of the motivational speakers currently on the circuit, the messages they deliver and their manner of delivery, NMP Live is perfectly placed to advise you. Our friendly and approachable agents will be happy to take your call.
Please do also browse the site for further details about individual motivational speakers, testimonials and videos including exclusive interviews. And to get you started read our guide on how to choose the best motivational speaker for your event, and a list of ten of the best motivational speakers you should know about.