Ordinarily we think of a “motivational speaker” as an individual who speaks professionally, appearing at retreats and conventions to stimulate participants. While that definition is accurate in part, it gives a view that’s much too limited. Why? Because leaders in every organization face occasions when giving a highly-charged motivational speech becomes essential. Consider these situations:
- Announcing a major pledge a benefactor has made to your charity
- Revving your sales reps to boost their closings rate for the new quarter --Honoring a longtime employee at her retirement dinner
- Dedicating a new building
- Introducing the new CEO to department heads
Here are three key ingredients that will help you energize your group in those and similar circumstances:
First: Set a tone of unwavering optimism
During the darkest days of World War II, Winston Churchill’s oratory kept the British people inspired, even when they retreated to bomb shelters and saw their treasured historic landmarks obliterated. Not once did he use his radio addresses to suggest that “there’s a possibility we might win this conflict.” Instead, he repeatedly lifted spirits with declarations like these: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs—victory in spite of all terrors—victory however long and hard the road might be.” He added: “I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men.”
Shift the scene: Picture yourself explaining to your stockholders the details of a proposed merger with a competitor. You will avoid qualifying words like “maybe,” “hopefully,” and “we think.” Replace them with “certainly,” “without question,” and “unanimous agreement.”
Second: Use vivid illustrations
During his acclaimed 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr drew a comparison every listener could relate to easily. “We have come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check,” he affirmed. The architects of our republic, he noted, promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all men.
Then King noted that not all Americans held a check they could cash, for Negroes had seen their checks returned with the mark “insufficient funds.” King expanded the financial analogy: “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. So we have come to cash this check.” To motivate your sales force, ask “What would a 25 percent increase in your commissions next year mean for you? You could buy that new car you’ve needed ever since yours passed the 100,000 mile mark. You could take the vacation your family has delayed for three years. You could give your spouse a new wardrobe, and buy your children the newest technology their school mates are enjoying.”
Third: Be a pacesetter yourself
Maybe you have heard your CEO introduce a consultant who will spend a full day guiding you and other employees through a new training program. After offering a glowing introduction of the consultant’s qualifications, the CEO says, “I’m sure this will be a highly beneficial program for you. I wish I could stay to participate, but all of you know how packed my schedule is, so you’ll understand why I have to get back to my office now.” With those few words, the CEO has illustrated that the training really doesn’t have high value for him. If it did, he could rearrange his schedule to include the intense six hour session. As Emerson noted, “What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear a word you say.”
Stated more constructively, imagine the contrasting impact if the CEO would say: “This is a busy time for all of us. I know you are thinking of everything you have on your to-do list, that you have to ignore while you’re in this training. Believe me, I have the same problem. On my desk is the budget I must present to the board next week, and it’s nowhere near complete with the supporting data. Yet I consider this training so important that I am setting aside the budget and my other obligations, so I will be with you for the entire day. I ask you to join me in concentrating totally on our consultant’s presentation—which will give us new strategies for accomplishing all that we have to do this month.”
In summary: Throughout our business, professional, and civic life, opportunities arise every week for energizing groups with a rousing motivational speech. When you want to elevate your colleagues to a new plateau of commitment, set a tone of unwavering optimism, use vivid illustrations, and be a pacesetter yourself.