Effective Motivational Speech Preparation

I had a very bright high school student call me recently.  She kindly asked if she could interview me about my job as a motivational speaker for a paper she wrote.  She was a great kid on the phone, and as you can see by her email (and paper) below you’ll see that her teacher agreed.

Emily:   you’re  a rock star!  Keep it up girl and let me know if I may be of further service.

Here’s her email

Dear Brad,

I am writing to you both, as you requested, to let you know about the outcome of my senior project about motivational speaking.  I wrote and presented a speech about technology to a retired men’s group, which went really well.  I wrote a paper about my research, and I mentioned both of you.  An attachment of the paper is included in this email.

The most nerve-wracking part of this entire experience was presenting my topic to my panel of judges.  I had to speak to them about more than the material included in my research paper, because they read my paper prior to my presentation.  After a recap of what I learned in my research for my paper, I talked to them about why motivational speaking is effective.  An audience may or may not leave a presentation feeling inspired, but most leave feeling happier.  That’s the key.  Happiness has medical and health benefits, but it improves a person’s general daily outlook.

That is how this project has affected me.  Learning about making people feel better about themselves has made me feel better about who I am.  I find that I am more confident, friendly, and optimistic now, knowing that I decide to make each day a great day.  I think that next year when I attend college, I will be studying peace and conflict resolution. Even though motivational speaking may not be a future career for me, I think that on a smaller scale, I will be able to inspire and encourage those around me, knowing how little it takes to brighten someone’s day.

Thank you both so much for being so willing to help me this semester with my project.  I ended with a perfect score, but, more importantly, a better outlook.  I learned so much these last few months, largely in part from both of you.  I found that reading about my topic in books was okay, but learning about it from a personal standpoint was so much more rewarding.

Thanks again for everything!,


Effective Motivational Speech Preparation
By Emily Livingston

What People Think of Motivational Speakers

Most people have a stereotypical idea of motivational speakers.  Automatically, people think of individuals on early morning television programs.  Whether they speak on religion, finances, or healthy living, they are perceived as people who are obnoxiously quirky and reference little factual based information.  General attitudes towards motivational speaking are those of doubt; doubt that the audience leaves feeling empowered; doubt that the speaker is credible.  So many people think that motivational speech writing is easy. Effective motivational speech writing begins with focus on the author, audience, and purpose before the presentation.

Great speech writers from centuries passed knew that this was the secret to conveying a message.  On March 4, 1801, in his Inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said:

…though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful will be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.  Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.  Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things (Montefiore 41).

This speech is one of the most well-known pieces in American history.  Thomas Jefferson used his own knowledge to relate to an audience about an important topic.  To feel passionate about a subject and to be able to make an audience feel that passion, too, is no easy task.  Over the last few months, the pleasure and challenge of writing a motivational speech has been the objective of the researcher.  Before diving in, learning about the foundational information necessary to write a well-developed speech was key.  Here are effective motivational speech preparation tips:

First, time must be spent examining the author.  To start, one professional suggests a brainstorm of the author’s knowledge is best (Duckworth 1).  What do they know of their own life?  What do they know of others’ lives?  What do they know that could serve as a strong topic for a speech?  What experiences have they had personally?  As one source read, ‘What shall I talk about?’ all of us have wide knowledge on lots of topics.  You can talk about anything from a hobby to a book, a foreign country to experience at home.  Just use what you know” (Howard 13-15).  Of course, picking a topic with a particular audience in mind is important.  However, as the author, one must determine the benefits of speaking on certain topics.  Authors need to consider what their objective in giving a speech will be.

The researcher, for example, had to examine his/her beneficial qualities, which could be utilized in a speech, as an author.  For the speech to be presented in the middle of November, the researcher knew that, being only 18 years old, life experiences were somewhat limited.  However, the author also knew that personal anecdotes and stories were always best when talking to groups.  Family, friends, high school, and life as an American teenager were probably the strongest topics the researcher could choose to speak about.  Maybe by talking about being a teenager from a teen’s point of view, the author would be able to give a speech illustrating how advances in technology have impacted daily teen life.

Next, the speech writer needs to consider the audience.  It is important to look at what a given audience knows and does not know.  Also, one must consider what the audience will want to take away from a speech (Cook 13).  It is wise to contemplate the types of experiences the audience has had.  What will a given group respond well to?  A group of kindergarten children would want to hear about different topics than a group of their parents.  The way that middle-class people view taxes would be different from the way that millionaires perceive them.  Authors need to be aware of their audience’s general attitudes towards certain areas of interest.  A nuclear physicist, for example, may know about kinetic energy, but an author speaking on wedding planning tips would need to be aware that the scientist would need to know the basics before anything else.  One source stresses that making sure not to grossly over or underestimate an audience is important (Duckworth 3).  Groups should be learning new information, but should not be treated as if they have no common sense.

The basics would need to be addressed for the audience when talking about technology.  Once the researcher decided to speak on teenagers and modern devices, the audience came to mind.  The group hearing the presentation would be a retired men’s group.  These men would probably know little about modern technology and may even be afraid to use some of today’s newest appliances.  Perhaps these men would want to know how technology could benefit them.  The researcher could talk to this group about ways they could try to work with technology in inexpensive ways, since this audience would probably be concerned about finances.  This group would need to feel comfortable and relaxed to be open to these new motivational speech ideas, so elements of humor may be an asset to the author. Also, to pique interest in this somewhat foreign topic, some hands-on activities may also help the men to respond well to the spoken material.

Lastly, the presenter needs to think about the purpose for his/her speech (Roman 20).  One book said, “You must think out clearly and put into words the objective which you hope to accomplish by the talk.  This can be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding steps in preparation.  Don’t be fuzzy about it” (Cook 17).  Authors need to keep in mind that they are not just speaking to a group, they want the group to feel motivated, but motivated for what? Brad Montgomery, a motivational speaker who primarily speaks with large businesses said, “You can’t just speak to motivate someone, because that will never work.  Keep in mind that you are motivating them for a reason.  Ask yourself, ‘What specifically do I want these people to take away from our time together?'”.   Trying to be too broad in purpose can lead to a disjointed and confusing speech.  Distinctively identifying a clear intent for a speech is necessary for success.

A definitive purpose was established in this case when the researcher chose to make a comparison -technology used by teens today compared to technology a few decades ago.  Then, the author could encourage use of this new technology and be prepared with inexpensive and easy way to do so.  Talking about trying new things and not being afraid to give technology a chance would be the main purpose of the speech.  Establishing this before even beginning to write is important so that the author can remained focused on the task at hand.  Too much variation straying away from this one idea can lead to chaos.

Practice Makes Perfect

Once the researcher writes the speech, practice is, perhaps, the most important step.  Revising and editing the speech is always a good idea, though reading the speech aloud to make sure that ideas are clear is critical.  Memorizing a speech is a good idea so that speakers do not seem more interested in their notes than their audience.  Speakers should remember that the audience is the most important element to focus on during a presentation.  Marsha Egan, a fulltime motivational speaker said, “Remember that what you say is not as important as what the audience takes from what you say.  Keep it simple, but hammer it home”.  Reciting a speech in front of family members, friends, or a mirror is recommended for practice.  Also, if a speaker is relaxed when giving a presentation, the audience will be at ease, too.

An important question to ask, however, is how does a speaker capture and hold an audience’s attention?  Of all communications, 75% is verbal and 25% is written.  Of this, 15% is retained, and 85% of what listeners remember comes from what they see with their eyes, not hear with their ears.  To give a good speech, one must override what one author calls “psychological earmuffs”.  Unconsciously, people develop ways to block out things deemed boring, trivial, or useless.  Speakers themselves have to first learn to listen and then find ways to make their speaking easy to listen to (Cook 5).  Knowing that distractions do occur, speakers have to be ready with a funny story or a thought-provoking question to counteract these instances.

Once again, by considering these distractions ahead of time, when examining the author, audience, and purpose, many diversions can be avoided.  By remembering to motivate someone to believe in or do something, interest can be sparked. Continue, then, by identifying the benefits of this.  Audiences want to know what they will receive by doing what a speaker encourages them to do. Research suggests that talking about daily activities and personal experiences makes audiences feel comfortable and allows speakers to connect to groups emotionally. This, ultimately, helps the presenter to convince groups that ideas are realistic and important (McKinney).  Ideas should progress in an orderly and practical way.

When writing a motivational speech, organization is not enough.  Having something interesting and worthwhile to say is essential.  One source said to “analyze the situation” (Roman and Tepper 19).  Topics should be aimed at a specific goal.  Speakers should decide to persuade, entertain, or inform, but not all three.  Audiences should not feel overwhelmed.  Locating facts and figures may be useful, but firsthand accounts will be more convincing and interesting.   Be upfront with the audience.  The speaker should tell groups what he/she is going to talk about, give them some background information, and tell them why this is important.

Having learned these three steps, the researcher has transformed into an author, and will soon turn into a speaker.  The speech to be presented to the men’s group will include a personal story about the author’s grandfather.  Also, there will be hands-on activities and audience involvement to engage the listeners.  The author plans to have pictures of technological devices for easy comparison, for example, an ipod next to a radio.  The author will continue to research suggestions for ways to try technology and will be sure to include benefits of doing so.  Once the speech is written and revisited and revised, practice will be key to a smooth presentation.  The author knows that the speech should be more a conversation than a performance.  After the speech is given, the audience will be asked to complete a brief survey for critiques and suggestions for the speaker, so that the researcher may continue to learn about preparing and presenting a successful motivational speech.

The researcher’s audience will, hopefully, have a positive opinion of motivational speakers after this presentation.  Society may feel that motivational speakers are fakes or phonies, but a lot of time and preparation goes into giving a good motivational speech.  If a presenter fails to consider the author, audience, or purpose, the speech will lack the conviction needed to catch and keep a group’s attention.  Regardless of how others see motivational speakers, most will undeniably remember words like:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort” (Montefiore 101), or

“For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish al forms o human poverty and all forms of human life” (Montefiore 142).  The line,

“Women need no protection that men do not need,” will not be forgotten (Montefiore161).

Prominent figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Shirley Chisem, respectively, knew that speaking to inspire others was no easy undertaking.  They were successful, and their words have lived for years after they were first spoken.

Works Cited

Cook, Glenn J. The Art of Making People Listen to You. West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing Company, Inc., 1977.

Duckworth, George E. “Rhetoric.” Microsoft Encarta. CD-ROM.  Limited edition ed. Microsoft, 2001.

Egan, Marsha. Personal interview. 19 Sep 2008.

Howard, Vernon. Talking to an Audience. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1983.

McKinney, C. “Public Speaking Tips.  Public Speaking.  2007.  Advanced Public Speaking Institute.  <http://www.public-speaking.org/>.  02 Aug 2008.

Montefiore, Simon.  Speeches that Changed the World.  London:  Smith-Davies, 2005.

Montgomery, Brad.  Telephone interview.  25 Aug 2008.

Roman, Paul A. and Albert Tepper. The Oral Communicator: His Role and Function. Kansas City: Peterson and Son Publishing Co., Inc., 1989.