Motivational speakers give inspirational and informative speeches to groups of people. They are hired by businesses, schools, resorts, and communities to speak on topics such as achieving personal or financial success, living a healthy lifestyle, or organizing one’s personal life or business. Speakers must tailor their message to their audience, whether it is a class of high school students or a group of business executives.
Motivational Speaker Career History
Motivation is the internal drive that urges people to act in a certain way. People are motivated through the expectation of a reward, whether tangible (such as a cash bonus) or intangible (such as internal satisfaction). People can also be motivated by fear of the loss of privileges or power (such as employment termination).
Throughout history, people have been motivated by different factors. During tough economic periods, people are motivated by money or even food. In good times, people are still motivated by money, but they can also find motivation in achieving intangible things such as success or publicity.
Though motivational speaking may seem like a recent invention, speakers have long been influencing people. Even Jesus Christ can be considered a motivational speaker. Political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. have motivated people to act in a certain way.
A more recent development is the hiring of motivational speakers to inspire smaller and more specific audiences. Whether motivational speakers are addressing a group of employees about improving job performance, or talking to a graduating class of college students about making it in the real world, their ultimate goal is the same: to motivate.
Motivational Speaker Job Description
Motivational speakers are hired to speak on a variety of topics, depending on their audience and specialty. They may talk about overcoming alcohol or drug abuse, achieving athletic success, developing business skills, coping with change, communicating with others, working with computers, welcoming diversity, dealing with gender issues, protecting self-esteem, negotiating with a boss, improving performance, handling relationships, adjusting to retirement/aging, or managing stress—to name a few. Many speakers talk about how they overcame an obstacle and how others can do the same. They speak to young students, single parents, business professionals, school administrators, or any other group looking for advice and motivation.
Speakers need to worry about more than just delivering their speech. They have to prepare for the talk weeks or even months in advance, rehearsing their delivery and pinpointing their message to their specific audience.
On the day of their speech, motivational speakers should arrive at the location of their speech early to make sure that that everything is in place. Some speakers like to use microphones, while others are able to project their voice without using one. Some motivational speakers like to walk around while speaking and may require a cordless microphone, while others are more comfortable standing at a podium. All these details have to be worked out in advance to make sure the speech goes smoothly.
Speaking in public is something many people dislike, even fear, doing. But motivational speakers have to speak in front of audiences large and small on a regular basis. They have to sound confident, knowledgeable, and compassionate with their listeners. They must make any performance fears that they have work for them—adding energy to their speech instead of nervousness.
Most importantly, motivational speakers must be engaging. Speakers shouldn’t speak to their audience, they should speak with them. Everyone has faced hardships in life. For this reason, motivational speakers must try to relate to their audience members’ experiences on some level. While speaking about overcoming obstacles such as depression, drug abuse, or joblessness, speakers may use funny, touching, or shocking stories from their own lives to connect with their listeners.
Motivational Speaker Career Requirements
Motivational speakers should have a high school diploma at the very least. Obvious class choices should include English and speech, but drama, foreign language, and computer classes would also be useful. Depending on what topic you wish to speak on, you could also take classes in business, history, science, or math—practically any area about which you feel passionately.
A communications degree, though not required, would be useful for a job in public speaking. Advanced classes in speech, writing, and English will help you hone your communication skills and make you a stronger, more confident speaker. Again, depending on your specialty, you could also major in business, finance, political science, or other subject areas, but be sure to take communications classes on the side.
Certification or Licensing
To increase their credibility and marketing appeal, many motivational speakers seek certification to demonstrate their skills and experience. The National Speakers Association offers the certified speaking professional (CSP) designation to professional speakers with many years of experience making money from speeches. Applicants must meet high standards, including meeting certain educational requirements, having five years of public speaking experience, giving at least 100 presentations to audiences of 15 or more, working with a specified number of different clients, and earning a minimum gross speaking income. The association also gives the title CSP candidate to individuals who have met some of these standards and are working toward full certification.
Motivational speakers must be very confident in order to be able to speak in front of an audience. Besides being good communicators, speakers need to be able to connect with their listeners on a personal level. They should be compassionate and understanding and maintain a positive outlook on life. To be able to motivate and inspire others, they must be motivated and inspiring themselves! For their stories to be believable, speakers have to be honest about their experiences and not be afraid to share sometimes vulnerable moments in order to get their message across.
Exploring Motivational Speaker Career
To get a sense of what this career is like, you should take advantage of public speaking opportunities while in school. Participate in school plays to gain experience and skills performing in front of an audience. If your school has a speech or debate team, join and work on your speaking and debate skills. You will have to prepare your own argument and deliver it in front of people, including judges that are evaluating your delivery, use of eye contact, and overall performance.
Read magazines such as Professional Speaker to learn about hot topics and developments within the profession. Sample articles are available on the National Speakers Association’s Web site at http://www.nsa-speaker.org.
Motivational speakers are hired by a variety of clients. Depending on the focus of their speeches, they are hired by schools, government agencies, small businesses, large corporations, resorts, health clubs, spas, and even cruise lines.
Most are self-employed and work for clients on a onetime basis. Some speakers have repeat clients, such as speakers who are hired to give a presentation at an annual conference. Speakers who focus on employee training may be hired full time to train new workers directly or teach managers about training methods.
It is difficult to work full time as a motivational speaker. Most speakers work part time until they develop a list of clients and build a solid reputation as a speaker. To start out, many speakers offer to talk for free or for a nominal fee. This will give them experience and references for future clients.
Most speakers prepare promotional packets to send out to potential clients. These include an introductory letter, a resume, references, a color photo, and a “demo” videotape of one of their speeches.
Clients also may choose to join a professional organization such as the American Speakers Bureau Corporation for exposure and job assistance. Speakers are listed on the organization’s Web site, http://www.speakersbureau.com/, by specialty and region.
Motivational speakers advance by working for larger clients, earning more money per speech, or working full time. Popular motivational speakers can advance by working more in the spotlight, hosting radio or television programs, writing books, or running Web sites. A good example of this type of personality is Dr. Phil McGraw, personal growth specialist, speaker, writer, and now TV host.
According to Mike Moore, motivational speaker and operator of a Web site, Speak for Profit (http://www.speakforprofit.com/), beginning speakers can expect to earn between $100 and $200 per speech, in addition to reimbursement for any expenses incurred. Within a year, dedicated and talented speakers can earn $400 to $1,000 per speech, $1,500 to $2,000 for a longer seminar, and $2,000 to $2,500 for a full day of speaking. The National Speakers Association survey reported that 26 percent of its members earned fees between $3,000 and $5,000 per presentation in 2004. Of those surveyed, about 18 percent earned fees of $1,000 or less per presentation, with almost 3 percent earning less than $100 per presentation. At the other end of the salary scale, 3 percent also reported earning more than $10,000 per presentation.
It is important to note that earnings can be sporadic and depend wholly on the ability of the speaker to find clients and appointments.
Motivational speakers work in a variety of locations, from business boardrooms to school cafeterias. They generally speak indoors but may work outdoors on occasion, such as during a graduation ceremony.
When not “talking,” speakers generally work from home, gathering information for their next assignment and looking for new business opportunities.
While giving speeches, motivational speakers work in what many may consider a stressful environment, with hundreds and maybe thousands of people watching and listening. But to the successful motivational speaker, this environment is viewed as thrilling and captivating.
Motivational Speaker Career Outlook
Membership in the National Speakers Association has increased by 30 percent in the last decade, indicating growth in the speaking profession. However, the job market for motivational speakers depends on their specialty and targeted audiences. Those who speak at schools are affected by budget cuts that can make the hiring of professional speakers a financial impossibility. Those who speak to professional associations, however, are seeing growth in the number of job opportunities available. According to a recent study by the American Society of Association Executives, nearly half of all seminars and three-fourths of all conventions hosted by associations include a professional speaker as part of their scheduling.
Because of the nature of the job, motivational speakers will always find opportunities to impart their wisdom. However, like other self-employed workers, it’s the speaker’s resourcefulness and marketability that will determine his or her success.