When Michaela Coel won her recent Emmy, she gave the speech of the night. Here is the full text:
“Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you — in a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence. … I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault.”
It’s a short speech, less than 100 words in total, but people talked about it for days. Writers felt motivated to take her advice: “Write the tale that scares you.” (She did dare them.)
So … why was the speech so inspiring?
1. It challenged norms
Coel gave writers permission to “disappear” from the world to focus on their craft, which contradicts every norm we know about social media presence. Coel herself has turned her back on social media, which gives the statement even more weight.
2. It slapped with emotion
Coel knows that great writing is emotional and raw. If you’ve watched her series I May Destroy You, you know Coel isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects like sexual assault. That’s why she opens her speech with, “Write the tale that scares you.” She’s encouraging writers to face their fears, even their trauma, and write with emotional authenticity.
3. It was a strong call to action
Coel dares her audience to follow her advice, which raises the stakes. Dares aren’t easy, after all—otherwise they wouldn’t be dares, they would be requests. Coel understands that her ask is difficult, but she asks nonetheless, which is enticing, challenging, and insinuates fulfillment if someone takes her up on it.
Motivational speeches come in many forms: short or long, demanding or measured, energetic or subdued. But if you’re looking for a motivational speaker, there are some characteristics you can prioritize to make sure you’re booking someone who can help you reach your event goals.
Keep reading to find out:
- The difference between a motivational speaker and a keynote speaker
- The most important qualities of a motivational speaker
- Examples of some of the best motivational speakers
- Questions to ask motivational speakers before booking them
What makes someone a motivational speaker?
In every field, you’ll encounter people with niche areas of expertise. Public speaking is no different.
Some speakers are great at what they do because they’re subject matter experts who love to educate people in their field. Other speakers may still know their subject, but the true essence of their skill lies in their ability to pump up a crowd.
Before you start looking for a motivational speaker, you’ll need to understand how they’re different from a keynote speaker.
What is a keynote speaker?
A keynote speaker is a thought leader and subject matter expert who sets the tone and expectations for your event. The definition is in the title: They set the “keynote” for all other speakers.
A keynote speaker understands your industry, organization, and brand. Most of your audience should know who they are because they’ve gained credibility as a subject matter expert, so it makes sense that they would deliver a keynote and possibly moderate your event’s agenda.
Keynote speakers overlap with motivational speakers because, in setting the tone for the event, they prime your audience for excitement about what’s to come. While storytelling skills are important for keynote speakers, they tend to have more knowledge of your field than a motivational speaker and may even draw a crowd because they’re known as experts in your field.
What is a motivational speaker?
A motivational speaker is someone who inspires change through a shift in perspective.
Motivational speakers are different from keynote speakers in that their core skill is to trigger people to act. While they may not know as much about your industry as your keynote speaker, motivational speakers transcend organization goals to reach people on a deeper level.
Motivational speakers can have subject matter expertise, but the great ones know how to reach beyond basic knowledge to challenge group norms and beliefs. They create and release tension with storytelling to reveal a new perspective, one that can spur action and catalyze change.
Here are a few of the top motivational speakers today!
Learn more about how to book different kinds of speakers here.
Top 10 qualities of motivational guest speakers
So how do you find a great motivational guest speaker for your event? You develop a matrix and score candidates based on these qualities:
Confidence is where preparation and expertise meet—and it’s something an audience can sense.
Great motivational speakers should exude confidence even when they’re at their most vulnerable (more on that below). Check out this example from Margaret Thatcher, who delivered this scathing line with confidence despite her cabinet calling for a “policy U-turn” after the 1981 England riots:
Empathetic leaders are more effective. A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found that 76% of people who saw empathy from their leaders said they were more engaged with their work.
The verdict is in—empathy creates engagement, which creates action. Check out this opener from Angelina Jolie’s World Refugee Day speech, which asks the audience to consider that refugees are “so cut off from civilization that they don’t even know a day like this exists on their behalf”:
We mentioned that motivational speakers are different from keynote speakers in that they may not know your industry inside out—but one thing they should know about are your goals.
Motivational speakers operate within the big picture. While they may not go into granular detail, they understand current trends enough to know how to challenge them. It’s this tension and surprise that creates an effective motivational speech.
Check out this example from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who encourages people to reframe the creative process—on which she’s no doubt an authority—so that they can get their best work done without fear:
You can tell someone is eloquent when their words just seem to … flow.
Great motivational speakers are mindful of word choice and cadence. They read their speeches aloud to themselves and smooth over anything that might sound clunky. They understand that a speech is an auditory experience, and they make tweaks to their words on the page to reflect linguistic tropes that are pleasing to the ear, such as repetition, alliteration, etc.
A section on eloquence wouldn’t be complete without resurfacing one of the most memorable speeches of all time: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which is almost as famous for how it sounds as its groundbreaking content:
Underneath true confidence lies an assertive attitude. Great motivational speakers, the ones with substance, are assertive about their ideas and ready to defend them.
There isn’t a more relevant example of an assertive speech than Greta Thunberg’s at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. She starts her speech: “My message is, we’ll be watching you.” The crowd laughs, and that’s when Thunberg gets serious. If you haven’t seen what follows, it’s a master class in assertive public speaking.
What makes someone “likeable”?
People are likeable when they demonstrate an open mind, acceptance, and vulnerability. So how do you show all of that in a speech?
Likeable speakers approach their speech from the perspective of the audience. They don’t consider themselves “above the audience”—they’re flawed, just like every one of us. When speakers go all-in on showing vulnerability, the audience feels a kinship toward them, which boosts likeability.
Likeability can triumph over whether or not your audience agrees with your speaker. Check out this video wherein Hasan Minhaj talks about the challenges he faced with his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner, which reached an audience who disagreed with him but still liked him:
Flexibility is less about the speech itself and more about working with a motivational speaker who’s willing to collaborate with you.
When you hire a motivational speaker, you’re hiring them for their style—but they should also be willing to customize their approach for your organization’s goals. Hire a speaker who’s willing to co-create their speech with your input. You’re the authority on your audience, not them.
Anyone can stand in front of a crowd and spout ideas. Great motivational speakers dispense original ones.
A motivational speaker’s primary goal is to inspire action by offering a new perspective on an old idea. New information is what encourages audiences to see the status quo as “not enough”, which triggers greater action to strive for something better.
Check out this example from Stephen Hawking, one of the most original thinkers of our time. His speech reaches new existential depths as he attempts to answer some of the most meaningful questions of all: How did life begin? How will the human race survive?
He comes to a novel conclusion: “Our only chance of survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth but to spread out into space.”
9. High energy
Not all motivational speakers need to have an abundance of energy. Some of the most thoughtful and effective speeches are subdued and measured, which works just fine if your speaker is charming.
But if your primary goal is hype, you’ll want to prioritize high energy as a quality. Some speakers are known for their energy as entertainers, and that’s why they’re successful at bringing people around to their ideas.
For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is known for his boundless energy when speaking. He makes people feel like they can do what he did in business because he’s so passionate about his message.
Authenticity is hard to pin down, but an audience can sense it when it’s not there.
Similar to likeability, authenticity is linked to vulnerability. When a motivational speaker is willing to be vulnerable, they create a sense of trust with the audience—who can also sense if it’s fake from a mile away.
When you’re vetting motivational speakers, trust your own instincts. If you’re not buying what someone is selling, your audience won’t either. Set your bull$%*^ detector on high and choose wisely.
Questions to ask motivational speakers
How do you determine whether or not a motivational speaker has the qualities mentioned above? You can watch samples of their work, then ask them questions geared toward demonstrating the qualities you need.
Here are 20 questions mapped out to our top 10 qualities of a motivational speaker:
- What’s your proudest accomplishment as a motivational speaker?
- What’s your superpower skill as a motivational speaker?
- Can you tell me about a time you connected with one of your audience members?
- What techniques do you use to engage an audience during a speech?
- Can you explain [choose industry topic] to me like I’m a child?
- What do you think the future of [choose industry topic] will look like in the next 10 years?
- How would you describe your speaking style?
- What’s your creative process for writing one of your speeches?
- Can you tell me about a time someone disagreed with you? How did you handle it?
- What is one of your ideas you will defend to the death?
- Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to perform a selfless act?
- How do you deal with difficult people?
- How do you like to work with organizations on the development of a speech?
- What are some of the factors that might make you revise one of your speeches?
- What is one of your ideas you will defend to the death?
- What do you think needs to change immediately in [industry]?
9. High energy
- What are some of the ways you hype up an audience?
- If you notice an audience isn’t as engaged as you’d like, how do you turn that around?
- What are your top three core values as a person?
- What are some of your biggest career regrets?
You may never find a motivational speaker who has all 10 qualities above—but that’s okay. Choose your top five deal-breakers and optimize your search for your goals.
Booking your next motivational keynote speaker is an exciting milestone in your event planning process. Start your journey toward a successful event by booking your next motivational keynote speaker with eSpeakers Marketplace today.