Motivational speakers use their knowledge and life experiences to communicate with other people and motivate them to take action or improve their lives.
But how does one become a motivational speaker?
We asked experts to share their insights.
G. Brian Benson
Award-Winning & #1 Best-Selling Author, Habits for Success: Inspired Ideas to Help You Soar | Actor |
TEDx Speaker | Radio Personality | Ironman Triathlete
It is of the utmost importance to be you and only you! If you really think about it, it takes all of the pressure off of trying to be someone that you aren’t, which we all have been guilty of from time to time.
Believe in yourself, own your story and own what you are sharing. People will respond and get on board. We all want to be inspired by someone sharing authentically because it gives us permission to be authentic ourselves.
Remember that the talk isn’t about you, it’s about sharing you
Whenever I get nervous prior to speaking (still happens!) whether it’s on a radio show or in front of others, I make sure that I remember that this talk isn’t about me, it’s about sharing me. That helps to free up the part that I used to attach to my self-worth.
The need to make it perfect. It’s about sharing and connecting with others, plain and simple. If you can do that you will have an attentive audience.
When I started out I was truly terrified to speak in front of others so I began to step out of my comfort and started by taking a few community college speech classes. I then moved up to Toastmasters for about a year. I then created an interactive workshop tied in with my first book. I also hired someone to co-host an internet radio show with me who had plenty of experience.
All four of those experiences helped me develop skills, courage, and creativity. They were all safe places to practice and learn.
Get your stories rock solid
Audiences love stories. They love to be inspired and take messages out of stories. People love to place themselves in stories while listening to them and imagine how they would react if they were situated in a similar situation.
Stories are also the best way to implement your message/take away.
TEDx Speaker | Sales Keynote Speaker | Podcast Host, The Successful Pitch
The key to being a motivational speaker is to decide who you help and what problem you solve for an audience
If you have been in the audience’s shoes, you have credibility and empathy which gives you an emotional connection. During my 15-year media sales career at Conde Nast, I was giving keynote talks to my advertisers’ sales teams. For example, when Jaguar advertised, I would also speak to their salespeople at a dealership on how to sell to a luxury market and not take rejection personally.
I had specific expertise in the luxury market and was solving a problem that all salespeople face which is how to handle rejection. Since I dealt with rejection in media sales, I could relate the techniques that worked for me and show them how it would work for them.
Once I decided to focus full time on becoming a motivational speaker, I set my sites on giving a TEDx talk. You have to really come up with “an idea worth sharing.” It took me over a year and a half and I applied multiple times before I got a yes. I had to walk my own talk and not take the “no’s” personally. My TEDx talk “Be The Lifeguard Of Your Own Life” has over 1M views and helps give me exposure and credibility to event planners.
The second suggestion for people wanting to be a motivational speaker is to write a book about your expertise
Within the word “authority” is the word “author.” You have to really own that you are the authority and tell your story. My book Better Selling Through Storytelling is also the name of my keynote talk to motivate salespeople to stop pushing information out and tell stories that make them magnetic.
My third tip is to find out how you can help speaking bureaus get publicity and awareness for their business
This is a great way for them to get to know, like and trust you. In my case, I had several bureaus on my podcast, The Successful Pitch, which has resulted in them representing me.
In summary, pick your topic and the problem you solve. Give a TEDx talk, write a book and connect with bureaus and you will have a winning strategy to becoming a motivational speaker.
International Speaker | Communication Strategist
Tell your story in a way that it impacts others — not just how it impacts you
Yes, you’ve suffered — or grown — or woke — or succeeded. That’s great. But show the audience how they can use it in their lives — and be obvious about it. While it’s interesting how hard someone worked to get where they are, what people really want to know is how they can use that information right here and right now.
Learn to package things in a way that will entice others to want to hire you
When selling a house, you don’t highlight the fabulous kitchen to someone who doesn’t cook (or bring in caterers.) Package your story in a way that highlights them, their preferences, their dreams.
Give it away until someone will pay to hear it
It helps you get your presentation to the perfect place. No one paying $10k wants to hear you practice telling your story. They want to hear it perfected. Practice it on audiences until it’s ready to sell.
Learn to run a business
There are thousands of speakers who want to speak. There are many fewer who understand that marketing and running a business are as important (or even more important) than your public speaking abilities.
Angela Marie Hutchinson
The best way to become a motivational speaker is to let people know that you want to speak
Contact different associations that you or your friends are members of, including professional membership-organizations, business networking groups, charity fundraisers, and Greek fraternities or sororities.
Next, try to procure a local TEDx Talk in your area or surrounding areas
A lot of folks submit to do a TED Talk from the main website before trying to secure a local talk, which can be helpful in getting accepted to the main TED. Doing a TEDx Talk is an opportunity to cultivate your topic and talk, but also grow your platform.
Lastly, research college professors based on your subject matter and see if they need a guest speaker
The size of the class doesn’t matter but getting yourself on tape speaking is important. Having fresh footage for your speaker’s reel is useful in getting booked as a speaker, particularly as a paid speaker.
Due to social media and everyone having a voice, we are all motivational influencers to some degree. So to stand out as a legitimate speaker and one that people pay, you must focus on crafting strong innovative messaging.
Remember, that a motivational speaker needs to motivate
So ask yourself: what do you want people to be motivated to do after they hear your talk? Ideally, it should be twofold – something that benefits you, such as buying your book, registering for your webinar, subscribing to your email list, or following you on social media. And the other component primarily benefits them.
After an audience hears your motivational talk, what do you want them to do differently that day/week/month in their life? The most powerful speakers evoke an emotion that propels a person to change their behavior or take a useful action that they may not have ever taken had they not heard you speak.
Keynote Speaker | Consultant
As an agent, I wanted to see valid testimonials. You get one shot with an agent- perform poorly, and you will not be asked again. Be prepared! If you are not well-rehearsed, then hire a pro to help you. Take public speaking classes! Like everything else, there are techniques for delivering an awesome presentation.
Have a great video
The client thinking about booking you will sit in a conference room with a few other people and they are going to watch 20 or 30 “sizzle reels”. You’ve got 30 seconds to make an impression.
If you catch their attention in the initial 30, they will give you 30 more, and then again, maybe, 30 seconds more. Has your video been done professionally? If you want to get only lower fee jobs, then do it yourself. Nothing screams “I’m not that good” more than a poorly produced video.
Market, market, market
Here’s the bad news, Agents don’t want to book you. They have plenty of speakers and adding one more to their roster isn’t going to help them. They will get 3-5 calls a day from “want-to-be” speakers and they will largely ignore you. If you are lucky enough to have them represent you, it doesn’t mean they will book a gig for you. They just want you on their list in case someone specifically asks for you.
If you want to work, and there is a lot of it out there to be had, you are going to have to get it yourself.
When you get the gig, and this is important, remember, every performance is an audition for the next gig. Be so good they have to like you!
Motivational Speaker | Founder, The McClain Companies | CEO, Tovuti
Certainly, there are a ton of tips on how to become a motivational speaker, and all of them are great opinions. However, the most important question is “why” do you want to become a motivational speaker? Far too often I am asked, “How did you get into the business of motivational speaking?” This question is usually followed by “How do I get into it as well?”
First, you have to define your objective of why you want to become a motivational speaker
My answer has always remained the same. Now, keep in mind that objectives are different than plans. From where I come, objectives stay the same and plans often change, so it is important to know your objective, not your plan.
My objective has always been to inspire, uplift and serve those around me who want something better for themselves and their families but may not have the confidence to see how great they really are yet.
Anyone can be motivational, but only a few can motivate with authenticity. So I would suggest to be authentic to your objective and to be authentic to your audience.
If you lean right, left, up or down, then be proud of it and speak your truth to the audience at hand. Never try to speak to what the audience wants; rather, speak about what you know and be authentic to your truth.
Lastly, I would say do it for you
If you are doing it for the money, lifestyle or whatever, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Let the money and lifestyle be the byproduct of your “why” and not the why itself.
TEDx Speaker | Self Defense Specialist | Founder & CEO, InPower
When beginning your motivational speaking career, know that authenticity will take you far
Speakers that are successful are not those who embody perfection, but those that share their journey through both their successes and failures. People who are willing to get real and share from a place of the vulnerability of both their triumphs and tragedies is what resonates with audiences.
As a professional speaker, I know what people remember most about a speech is how you made them feel. They may not remember every word, but they will remember if they felt inspired, empowered, and connected.
Motivational speaking does not mean perfection. If I can laugh at myself, I give others permission to do the same. We learn through storytelling (it’s how our brains are wired), but we feel connected and engaged in a speaker’s message through authenticity.
If you can find own authentic voice, the one that is real and imperfect, then you have found the first key to a successful career, because it is authenticity that will connect your audience with you.
David Jacobson, LCSW, CHP
President, Humor Horizons |
Director of Behavioral Health Case Management, Banner University Medical Center
There are a hundred tips I could give, but for someone just beginning or wanting to explore motivational speaking I would say they should start with these top ten:
- Join a local Toastmasters club to learn the basics.
- Have a passion for a topic and organize their talk around that topic. For example, two of mine are: How to decrease stress, How to have more joy in life, etc.
- Their talk should have two to three main points and develop their message around those points.
- Practice, Practice practice the talk.
- Develop a website. It is essential for any motivational speaker.
- Develop a demo video. It doesn’t have to be amazing, can even use your camera phone to start.
- Talk for free for Rotaries, Clubs, and associations as they are always looking for free speakers.
- Check out motivation speaker websites – not to copy, but for ways to develop your own ideas.
- Look at some speaker lead websites like speakermatch.com and gigmasters.com.
- Join the National Speakers Association and network with other speakers.
Author, The Money Garden: How to Plant the Seeds for a Lifetime of Income | Inventor |
Motivational Speaker | CEO, Speaker Sponsor
I’ve been a working actor for most of my life, so transitioning to being a speaker wasn’t that difficult. It’s more like being a comedian on stage than being an actor on stage.
I started out by going around to local libraries and asking if they could use a speaker
Since I knew I wasn’t going to get paid I asked if I could have a sponsor pay me. This is how I started as a speaker and got paid from day one.
Now I make a living as a motivational speaker. It’s not a job to consider if you don’t like to hustle for every single job you get. It’s the same as being an actor. When one job is over you start hustling for the next one.
Write your own material and run a business, it’s a great career
In the beginning, speak anywhere and everywhere you can. The only way to be a good speaker is by doing it. It’s not something you can learn from a book. Also, find out what makes you special, unique and different. There are a million speakers out there. Don’t be generic.
Former F1 Marketing Director | Honorary Doctor, Birmingham City University |
Founder, Motorsport Industry Association | Author of “You Don’t Have to be a Champion… to be a Winner!: A journey from Xerox to F1“
Really good speakers build credibility with real-life stories
Let me start by stating that the keyword is “motivational”. Some supposed motivational speakers I’ve listened to couldn’t motivate the skin off a rice pudding. If you haven’t lived, made mistakes and had success, how can you really hope to motivate someone else?
A problem you’ll face is that we have become a nation of celebrity lovers. If the name isn’t a famous one, why would a company want to book you? Look at any speaking agency site and its a who’s – who of retired sportspeople or actors.
To be original you need a theme, an original theme that people will buy into. If you are not a household name, find a strapline that tells a company what you can offer, sell the solution not the problem.
Diversity Strategist | Best Selling Author
Most people can become motivational speakers. People motivate others every day of the week. However, making a career and a living from motivational speaking is a challenge for anyone in this industry.
Becoming a professional speaker (when you get paid to speak) versus a public speaker (when you speak in public for no remuneration except perhaps a free meal and book store gift card) requires the speaker to create a business, not just a following.
This requires marketing, creating an exceptional product (your speech), and business management skills. Let’s take each one separately:
Marketing is required so that organizations hire you
Many motivational speakers do this through direct marketing, social media marketing and following up leads given by audience members in previous presentations. If you cannot or are unwilling to market your speaking business, you will not last long in the industry.
An exceptional product is required to make a good living in this field
This means your presentation must be original, emotional, meaningful, and useful. You must be an expert who speaks eloquently.
Business management is identical to every small business
It requires you to be able to manage the back end of the business, including staff, contractors, invoicing, client follow-up, and the various travel arrangement required for someone who travels extensively.
Although professional speaking looks like a glamorous job when you are sitting in the audience, many speakers do not make a living speaking alone. That is why it is important to have other streams of income such as book sales.
This has become such a relevant element in my business, that I began to be asked by other professional/motivational speakers how to create a book to complement their speaking business.
I wrote a book (Hemingway or Twain? Unleashing Your Author Personality) and launched Wood Dragon Books to help speakers write their book with the least pain, money and time possible.
Stevie Dawn Blakely, Ph.D.
CEO, Orange Compass
You have to sell
When we see speakers on social media or standing on that big conference stage, we don’t always think about the fact that in order to get there, they had to sell.
At some point, you have to have a sales conversation. To create a pricing structure for your speeches. To negotiate to get the price that makes sense and gives the meeting planner/event planner what they desire.
You have to be a speaker and a salesperson. This was the hardest part for me when I started. I spoke for free everywhere I could and learned a lot, but when it came time to start charging…I froze up. I didn’t know how to respond to that “price” question. I didn’t have a plan and the words “sales” made my skin crawl.
Once I shifted my mindset and created more confidence in myself I realized that I am not trying to sell them. I am trying to serve them and that service costs money! When I give advice to new speakers, I always tell them to get comfortable with sales early on because it will make the process a whole lot less painful. And remember to serve before sell.
Motivational Speaker | Life Coach | Attorney
Be authentic and be yourself
Let your purpose-driven self – rather than your ego self – lead the way. Meaning, if you’re getting on stage with the primary intention of being a walking promotional material for yourself, the energy of the room will feel that and your message won’t land.
If your venue of choice to inspire, empower, uplift, and hold space for a collective is on that particular platform, then: no script required. Speak from the heart, not from bullet points. Tell a story and engage with the audience in your perfectly own way. Show up as yourself uniquely because people resonate with real people and real stories and real-life.
With a background as a litigation attorney, I had zero trouble holding a presence while, literally, waiting to be judged by how well I crafted a formal position or for how I appeared. Ironically, it took more mental preparation for me to get on stage and speak from the heart, about a story I have played over and over in my head one zillion times, that I knew every intimate detail of because I had lived it.
If I could go back to “pep talk” myself before I hit the stage, I would tell myself: “Your only job is to be you; your presence is your power.”
You have my explicit permission to show up as yourself. Your message is delivered not just with your choice of words, or what you wear on stage, but in how authentically you show up, and, don’t forget this, Jaz, how fully present you are in the moment.
Be in your heart, not in your head. Law school didn’t prepare you for this, no speaking course can prepare you for this. This is a measure of heart and sincerity.
President & Chief Storytelling Officer, Steller Collective
The best keynote speakers are storytellers
Even if your contract says you have 30 minutes to give your presentation, the reality is, if the audience doesn’t like you after the first three, it’s over. Great motivational speakers are those who can quickly breakdown the natural barrier the stage creates and connect with the audience in a real way.
The most effective strategy for making yourself likable? Start your presentation with a story.
The moment your foot hits the stage is the same moment you should start your story. Don’t tell them your resume or credentials, give those to the person introducing you and let that be enough.
Instead, go straight to what audiences enjoy most — stories, and through your story give the audience an opportunity to nod their head and say, “I’ve felt that way. We’re not so different. I like him/her.”
Not only will an immediately, well-developed story endear you to the audience from the get-go, telling strategic stories throughout will make your content more memorable.
Here’s a little known fact about keynote speaking, success isn’t measured by applause or standing ovations. It doesn’t matter how many tweets or IG videos get posted.
If you want to build a sustainable career as a keynote speaker, one thing matters more than anything — After seeing you at an event, does someone in the audience want book you to speak at another event?
If you’re using stories, your presentation will stick with them and you’ll be more likely to get the call for the next opportunity.
Related: How to Get Better at Storytelling?
David and Leslie Shippy
Commit first and then figure out how to do it later
When it comes to the topic of how to become a motivational speaker, we recommend taking the approach of “ready, fire, aim”, as we talk about this in our book “Money Matters for Financial Freedom”. You don’t have to have all the answers when you commit. You simply need to combine your passions with your area of expertise or talents.
After the first book, a major Fortune 500 company approached requested to give a motivational presentation, on leadership in high tech, to an audience of several hundred people. I had no experience at the time. They asked me if I was a motivational speaker. With zero experience I didn’t hesitate and said, “Why, yes I am a motivational speaker!”
Of course, I then went on to create an awesome presentation that tapped into my passions and talents. I also practiced, practiced, and practiced giving the presentation.
I opened the presentation with impact by telling a compelling story. I then covered several important points that created a benefit for the audience. Finally, I closed with impact and a call to action. It’s that simple! I knocked it out of the ballpark!
My wife, Leslie, is also a successful motivational speaker. She practiced the “10,000-hour” rule. After many years in the counseling field, she joined a practice that taught seminars and workshops. She was excited to learn the art of presenting and delivering exceptional information and life-changing tools to large audiences.
It took some time to perfect her style, delivery, and message. She also practiced, practiced, practiced and watched the reactions, the smiles, the nods in the audience. She also listened to feedback from the audience and from colleagues.
Leslie knew she had great content and that finding the right mix of information as well as developing dynamic delivery was skilled to be developed.
Before too long, her feedback became outstanding and she knew at that point she was truly making a difference in the lives of her audience. When she was reviewed as an “all-time best speaker”, Leslie knew she had arrived!
We now speak together as a team and teach powerful techniques to achieve financial freedom. We combine our passion for teaching with our knowledge of creating streams of income. In summary: find your message and passion, find your audience, tell stories that create connection, and finally deliver a message that has an impact.
Violette de Ayala
Speaker | Social Entrepreneur | Founder, FemCity
Motivational speakers that are successful connect their struggles, challenges and evolutionary story to help others move forward in their lives. When we connect our authentic stories of personal development with words that connect to those listening, we inspire those listening and make a difference in their world.
To be successful as a motivational speaker, think of your story and your journey
Identify what helped you to find your path and greatness and share from the point of being of service to others.
Start your speaking role with local community gatherings and keep on sharing in bigger platforms. Seek input to improve, have others record to do a self-check and tweak how your story can be shared more powerfully with your voice.
Motivational Speaker | Founder of Women Empower X | TEDx Speaker
Speak on what you know and what you are passionate about
Too many people are trying to become motivational speakers by tapping into speaking on the trends or what they think is defined as a motivational speaker but in order to truly motivate others, you must first be able to connect with them on an authentic level, a relatable level.
In order to do that you need to speak on what rings true for you- what are you so passionate about that it keeps you up at night thinking about it? What knowledge do you have that can tie into that passion that when you speak, it flows so easily and you are not focused on your notes or slides but instead tuned into the people in front of you? Then start pitching yourself!
When I decided I wanted to become a speaker, I pitched myself to 65 small local events in my city and not one person gave me the opportunity, so I started my own small events and soon enough, people who were coming to my event hosted their own events as asked me to speak.
It took about a year before I booked my first paid gig and the momentum has been building since! The speaking industry is all about momentum. One speech leads to the next and so on!
Business Coach | Motivational Influencer
Find a topic that you are passionate about and keep talking about it
The more you hear yourself speak, and the more people ask you questions, the better speaker you become by naturally sharpening your skills. When people ask you questions, it also lets you know that first—they are listening! And second—you get a clue in on what parts of the conversation to clarify or speak about more.
Today’s social media platforms have made it easy for aspiring motivational speakers to get practice with a live audience. Take advantage of live streams on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. A live audience is public speaking one-on-one to get over the butterflies and any nervous energy.
Les Brown is often cited as one of the most exceptional motivational speakers of all time. I recently heard him say, “For the first time in the history of the world, with your phone, you can create a global business.”
Translation—speakers, there is no time better than the present. Grab your phones and get your message out there! There is an audience that already exists and is waiting to hear what you have to say.
Find a topic that matches your expertise and you are passionately talking about
Solve a specific problem for the audience. For example, instead of digital marketing, focus on email marketing or Facebook ads. Other things to keep in mind when creating your message are to find the right balance between sharing information and emotional connection.
Be honest and share your past pain to gain trust with your audience. Additionally, don’t be afraid to share viewpoints that are radically different from other people.
CEO & Co-Founder, Speeko
Tips to give a motivational speech:
- Make eye contact. A good rule of thumb is to hold your focus on one person for one to two whole sentences. Continue to scan the room throughout your speech to find friendly faces to focus your attention on.
- Speak clearly and with purpose. There’s no way around it — this requires lots of practice and experimenting to find the speaking style that is both confident and resonates with yourself as a person. You might still find your voice shaking on the big day, especially if you’re new to this. The key is to push through and mentally channel those nerves into putting more energy in your voice.
- Pace yourself. Naturally, you’ll speak faster when you’re in front of a crowd. Practice breathing exercises beforehand. When you catch yourself speaking quickly, deliberately pause, take a deep quiet breath in, and continue on with your speech.