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Are you a motivational speaker?

Rita Risser Chai

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My question was: Now that I’m doing opening keynotes, I find people at the meeting ask me beforehand if I am a motivational speaker. The first time I was asked this I asked the person, “What is a motivational speaker?” and he said, “Someone who’s entertaining but doesn’t have any content.” I’m entertaining and I do have content, and ultimately I hope to motivate people. I’m looking for a 20-second response I can give at the cocktail party the night before that would say that.

After considering all of these responses, I decided to use this as an opportunity to practice two things I talk about — humor, and connecting with people. I will say, “It depends. Do you like motivational speakers?” If they say yes, I’ll say yes, and if they say no, I’ll say no — either one should get me a laugh. If all I have is 20 seconds, that’s it. But if I have more time I’ll ask them what they like or dislike about motivational speakers. This will give me some insight into the person and can lead to a good conversation about my presentation.

— Mitch Krayton

I would have fun with a question like that. I would say, “No, I have spent an entire career learning how to bore an audience.” Then I would smile and say, “Seriously, it is my intention to inform, entertain, stimulate and yes, motivate you, with every talk I give.”

— Ian Percy

I don’t accept the motivational speaker label either. Easiest response is to say that you are a “motivating speaker” and in fact all speakers, no matter how “dry” their topic, should be motivating or there is no point in listening to them. Many make the mistake of thinking “motivation” is a topic. Unless one speaks about the psychology of motivation or something, it’s not. You can also say you are an “Entertaining expert in the area of __________.”

— George Walther

I generally say, “I’m a business speaker who delivers solid content in a motivatING manner. Sometimes, purely motivationAL speakers just make you feel you’re capable of anything...until tomorrow morning when you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do.”

— Ric Giardina

When I’m asked that question, I always respond with, “No, I prefer to think of myself as an inspirational speaker.”

Usually that’s followed by a request for an explanation and I say that motivational speakers tend to get folks all excited without much follow-through, but as an “inspirational” speaker (and particularly within my field!), my experience is that people are inspired to actually take some action after my talks which, in turn, changes their lives — or some particular aspect of it — for the better.

— Ron Kaufman

I never take offense or react in a confused or offended manner. Instead, with sincerity I say: “I’m an EDUcational speaker! People learn a lot, but they ENJOY the presentation, too. Will YOU be there tomorrow?” The EDUcational sound plays off the MOTIvational work they used. The immediate link to “learn a lot” conveys value.

The “but they ENJOY...” sets them back at ease that the talk will be upbeat and worth attending.

“Will YOU be there tomorrow?” put the focus back on them as the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON, which is where they wanted it in the first place.

— George Torok

I used to answer this question with and indignant “No — I have content.”

But I noticed that people seemed confused or offended and I realized that if they want to call me a motivational speaker — what’s wrong with that?

So now my response is one of these or a combination:

“Well you never want to listen to a de-motivational speaker” (and they laugh). “We call those professors” (some laugh again).

“Yes that’s true. I am a marketing specialist. I give people practical marketing ideas. And the reality is that even the best ideas need to be delivered with motivation.”

— John Putzier

My answer is always, “I hope so!” Every speaker should be a motivational speaker, whether they are a trainer, consultant, etc.

— Mary Cantando

“People tell me that I’m motivational and a lot more! I’ll be sharing my 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in an entertaining format...so I promise we’ll have fun and you’ll learn a lot!”

— Margarita Rozenfeld

How about making a joke out of it and saying something like “Yes, except with substance” or “Just like it, except with awesome content” with wink.

— Kelly Swanson

When I get the question “are you a .............?” I don’t answer yes or no, I answer with a definition of what I am in terms of the value I bring to them. For example, I make people laugh, remind them to stay on the funny side of life, teach them to have a lasting impact on the people around them, and remind them of the power they have to make a difference right where they are.

— Jim Donovan

Gee, I thought we had content :-)

I’d probably, depending on my mood, say something like, “My programs are, of course, entertaining but are crafted to inspire people to motivate themselves to do what’s necessary to achieve their goals. I can’t motivate you. Only you can do that.”

— Billy Arcement

I also find answering the question, “Are you a motivational speaker” difficult to answer. Here is a version of how I’ve responded to that question:

“While some people in my audiences say my presentations are very motivational, I really cannot motivate anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. I prefer to say my messages are thought-provoking. I strive to make people think about who they are and what they want to do with their life. And to help, I strive to provide information to help them answer both questions. Then, if I get it right, they truly have the ability to motivate themselves.”

— Patricia Clason

Depending on the type of content, you could call your specialty “edutainment” — educating entertainment.

I often respond with, “I inspire people to take action and make their goals a reality,” or “I inspire people to take action and integrate the learning from my session.” Or you can use phrases like “motivation with practical content” “motivation with ideas that are easy to implement and integrate.”

— Nancy Stern

I’m entertaining, I do have content, and ultimately I hope to motivate people.

— Kathy Eubanks

IWhen asked I usually respond, “I am a speaker who inspires people to be their very best.” Or “I am a speaker who inspires people to change.” The end varies depending on who I am speaking to. At other times, “My programs provide listeners with the tools needed to change their attitude, thereby changing their life!”

— Diane Bolton

You posed an interesting question about “Are you a motivational speaker?” I had to chuckle when I read your comment because I am asked this question all the time — and I mean /all/ the time — yet, I do very few keynotes anymore. My forte is workshops/seminars, yet I still get asked this question.

While it’s not the most clever response, when asked if I am a motivational speaker, I generally reply with something like this: “Actually, I think of myself as more of an inspirational speaker — one who inspires people to take action. The motivation must come from oneself, not from someone else.”

I fully believe that no one can motivate me but me. I have been inspired along the way by others’ actions and words to take action on some things, but the motivation to get up and go do something has lain within myself.

— Maryanne Weiss

It always amazes me how little some of our audience participants understand what it is that we do with our work. My answer to that person would be:

“Yes, I am a motivational speaker. My message does have content — but in all of my work — no matter the subject — the end result is to empower the people who hear me. Motivation for each of us is subjective and my job is to reach each person where it is meaningful.”

— Elaina Zuker

Yes, I motivate people by empowering them with knowledge, information, skills.

— Anne Warfield

“I am often told that the content I provide motivates people to reach new levels they never thought possible.”

— Carolynn Van Namen

I would answer that question: “No, but I do inspire people with content that entertains and also provides value to my audience.”

— Patrick Lee

My elevator speech:

“I entertain, educate and inspire convention audiences across the country by appearing and speaking as Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, or William Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame.”

I much prefer “inspire” to “motivate.” Motivation does have that negative connotation. Besides, a speaker can’t motivate anyone. We can inspire them, perhaps actually helping them to motivate themselves. Personally, I like to be inspired, to feel better about myself, my work, my country, my whatever.

I use “educate” because there is a strong educational component to my work. I want my audiences to learn something about these one of these remarkable men.

And I use “entertain” because everyone likes to be entertained.

In conversation afterward with people, I often say, “I’m a teacher at heart. People hire me for a number of reasons, but my motivation is always to teach my audiences. And because the best teachers are also entertaining, I’m an entertainer, too!”

Could you answer that question with a question: “No. Motivational speakers are entertaining but often have no content. I AM entertaining and I DO HAVE content, something valuable for you. What would you call me?”

— Karen Dimmick

I don’t know what you speak on obviously, but how about something like this: “Yes I motivate people to take action on (the steps in your subject). For example, (I speak on entrepreneurial marketing)” “Yes, I motivate people to take action towards perfecting their niche, so they have the tools to make more money.”

— Helen Wilkie

For years my standard answer to “Are you a motivational speaker?” has been: “Well, I’d better be. But the question is, what do you want me to motivate them to DO?” It has sparked some interesting conversations.

— Mark Henson

When someone asks me if I’m a motivational speaker, I give one of two responses:

“Actually, I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m a MOTIVATED speaker. I’m totally jazzed about sharing my ideas on (topic) with you tomorrow.”


“I honestly don’t know. You tell me after the speech tomorrow.”

— Sharon Ferrier

I too, was quite perplexed when I was first introduced as a “motivational speaker” My mind shot to Tony Robbins and co. Then I thought, “all effective speakers are motivational speakers as they are trying to influence the way the audience thinks, feels, or acts.” So, to answer your question I would say, “My main goal is to educate — to provide you with the tips, tricks and tools to make you more effective in your job. But I believe we learn best when we have fun, so there will be plenty of stories and examples and opportunity to interact.”

— Ellen Schulz

I reply with this reframe: “Yes. All good speakers are motivational in creating an environment of learning and a desire to grow and take action.”

There is a nod and that is the end of it.

— Milo Shapiro

I’d just move past the way they worded the question and tell them what I do: “I deliver a speaker program called ‘xxxxxx’ which helps people to xxxxxxxxxx. My program helps them do their job (better-easier-happier-quicker), so I’d say that counts as being motivating...wouldn’t you? (insert big smile here).”

— Dave Crisp

I usually say, “Yes; my goal is to motivate people to actually do something — which means I do my level best to drag in some content in catchy, memorable way. If it isn’t fun, it isn’t remembered.”

— Teresa Allen

Loved your question — even better one is when someone asks if you are an “inspirational speaker” and I think this reply works in either case....

“I motivate/inspire my participants to excel in their career and life through use of the skills and ideas presented in my programs. ” The “skills” word covers those looking for content and the “ideas” covers those looking more for a mind shift experience — since most of the time you are answering a stranger and don’t know which angle they are hoping for this covers both sides. The ’career’ and ’life’ covers you for the person that really doesn’t think they care about their job but is interested in their life. It may open their ears or entice them to select your presentation, especially if several choices are available.

— Karl Mecklenburg

I do keynotes too. I am entertaining because the stories I tell touch people where they live: in their relationships, at their place of business, and through their emotions. If each individual in my audience isn’t reaffirmed in their belief that they determine their own future, then I haven’t done my job.

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