3.5 tips to guarantee a great motivational speech

It’s that time of year again.  The staff conference.  The team offsite.  The office party.  You need to stand up in front of your team and get them focused.  You probably haven’t advertised it as a ‘motivational’ speech.  But everyone knows you’re not really just updating them on the numbers from the second quarter.  They could have been emailed. What matters is the big message.  The team wants to understand how things stand and what the future holds.  You want to get them working harder and adding to the general good.

Those intentions are honourable,  but the result can often be a massive let-down, leaving your staff baffled, sniggering or, worst of all, both.

Things start to go wrong because our idea of what motivational speeches SHOULD be like stems from those at the very top of the game.  Yes, JFK managed to inspire a Nation by insisting that we “do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.  But he was a) the most powerful man in the world b) talking about a man on the moon and c) representing youth, good looks and a new world order.  Which means that his audience was a little more receptive than one might expect at the October accounting debrief.

Even worse than attempting to ape politicians, is to be influenced by cinema.  Al Pacino knocked out a hell of a half time talk in ‘Any Given Sunday’.  And there’s absolutely no doubt that “All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we’re gonna crumble. Inch by inch …” is inspiring stuff.  But a) it’s Hollywood and b) it’s Al Pacino.  This is not a template for the rest of us to gee-up our teams at work.

And yet ‘motivational’ speeches (and speakers) keep falling into the same traps.  These often start with the Google search “Great Motivational Quotes”, which generally lead to Vince Lombardi.  He was a brilliant and popular American Football coach (Tony d’Amato, de Niro’s character in ‘Any Given Sunday’ quoted extensively from Lombardi).  But his goosebumpy quotes, taken from the rarefied atmosphere of the locker room, are clearly inappropriate for less dramatic occasions and subjects.

This leads us to ‘real’ life.  Which , for the vast majority of our clients, means a meeting room at work.  Or a few words at the end of a brainstorming day in a Regus building.  In this sort of environment, it’s going to be difficult to pull-off a speech beginning (or ending) with something along the lines of: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

The key to getting it right is to stop trying to be someone else.  Quoting some of the world’s greatest speeches makes us sound inspirational in the same way as donning a GB swim hat makes us Adam Peaty.

The key, as ever, is relevance.  In three areas:

Relevant to the audience

Don’t start your motivational speech by trying to be Bill Clinton (or even Hilary).  Start by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.  What:

  • Do they want to hear?
  • Will interest them?
  • Can make them think differently?
  • Might inspire them?

Yes, inspirational language might work, but only if it’s relevant.  And in business, ‘relevance’ is usually defined by describing the benefits to them of getting things right.  Will they save more lives?  Could their day become easier?  Can they earn greater rewards?  Will their jobs be more secure?

Ultimately, we are motivated by these benefits.  ‘Winning’ is what turns on sportsmen, but it tends not to be relevant to most employees (even if it is to you).

Relevant to you

Yes, your audience comes first, but you are the conduit for the messages they’re receiving.  So there is no point trying to sound like someone you’re not.  Are you the thoughtful, introspective type?  If so, it’s unlikely that the Braveheart approach will work.  Relatively dry and detailed?  Let’s not try to make this a stand-up routine.  The key is to be YOU but at the very top of your game.  Otherwise your audience will see right through you, in the same way that they saw right through Gordon Brown when he tried to be pally, or William Hague pretending to be down with the kids. Authenticity and transparency can be the greatest motivational tools of all.

Relevant to the business

Apologies for dragging out the sporting references, but sport has a certain glamour.  It’s dramatic, often fast moving, and emotional.  Inspiring words can make a real, short-term impact in that world.  But in the world of business, people tend to respond better to transparency, simplicity and pragmatism.  Of course a shared vision and a set of common goals can work wonders, but relevance tends to require less throwing of tea cups than in a football changing room.

A sprinkle of motivational speech magic

You may have noticed that the title referred to three and a half tips.  Arguably the first three should all be parcelled together under the word ‘relevance’.  The half is less easy to define.  It’s something that makes your motivational speech original, memorable and inspiring – for all the right reasons.  It’s impossible to be any more specific from this distance because it’s impossible to sprinkle relevant magic without any ingredients.  But if you’d like to discuss how we can help, please call Seb for a chat on +44 (0)207 118 1600.