Great motivational speakers and star athletes are alike

   What do motivational speakers have in common with star athletes?

   I never considered this question until recently. Then the comparsion dawned on me. Here’s what happened:

   I’m watching my son play on his varsity high school basketball team, but in this particular game his team is flaking out. They can’t score. They can’t rebound. They can’t even pass without the ball being intercepted.

   The problem is there’s this big guy on the other team. You can’t see his face because it’s covered by an intimidating mask, the kind you wear when you want to protect a nose or a cheekbone. All you can see is his height, which is much larger than the other players and his arms, which spread like giant wings.

   Oh, and he speaks English with an accent – one that sounds eastern European. All that’s certain is this masked, tall, wide-armed dominating player is killing it on the court. He’s a one-man team.

   He does exactly what I strive to do on my court of play, the main stage at an important national conference. It’s my job on that stage as a speaker to enlighten, entertain and educate an audience, to help them get better at what they do.

   A motivational speaker has to be the big man or woman at center court, with arms stretched out wide, doing everything, scoring, rebounding, stealing the ball. The single most dominating player in the room.

   Oh, and that mask? That’s the mask of tragedy or comedy, the mask worn by a theatrical speaker who assumes roles, tells stories, brings out great surprises. But it must be a mask of authenticity and not deceit. That’s the only way to score in the motivational speaking business.

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Former boxing champ Mike Tyson is the latest example of an athlete who becomes a motivational speaker.


Dave Lieber is the national-award winning Watchdog investigative columnist for The Dallas Morning News and a much sought after motivational speaker. Dave is one of America’s top storytelling experts. He uses comedy to show businesses and associations how to improve their storytelling marketing skills in sales training and presentation skills. The author of five books, Dave won the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award as the U.S. newspaper columnist whose works produced positive effects on the lives of others.
To Book Dave Lieber:
Call 1-800-557-8166

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  1. Wow, Dave, interesting. I've never thought about what we do as motivational speakers quite like that before. And while I don't know much about Mike Tyson, my son tells me he is really rather impressive – as a person. I'll have to give your metaphor some more thought! Thanks for making me look at something a whole new way! 

  2. Always appreciate a shift in perspective as it keeps this motivational speaker curious and engaged. Appreciate the insight, Dave, and looking forward to more posts from such an incredible storyteller.

  3. I'm thinking that the whole height, wing-span, mask thing could translate as kick-butt confidence?  I know when I am feeling solid in my shoes and comfortable in my skin on stage as a motivational speaker, I certainly feel like a star athlete.  And I am sure that is true for everyone in every walk of life – the trick is to remind ourselves that we actually are the same person, we just have to remember how tall, wide and mask-y we are : )    

  4. Now that's what I call looking at the world through "Bloggers Eyes" as the fabulous motivational speaker Linda Larsen says!  It does feel great to own the court and slam dunk the message.  Game on!

  5. What a great story, Dave, and an even greater point. It's often hard for women (even motivational speakers) to see themselves as the masked giant on the court. We think we're being mean. Many of us want to serve, encourage, heal, empower – and we think that being that giant can't help us get there. But in order to serve, encourage, heal, empower, whatever else we want to do, we MUST gain the trust of the room. Confidence gains the trust of the room. Preparation and Strategy and Dogged Hard Work allows you to walk in with a giant wing span.  Owning Your Gift and What It Brings To Others makes you stand taller and taller. And Using That Power for good – will allow you to crush the competition and still maintain respect of the competition and the audience. We don't have set out with the goal to intimidate to make it to the top of our business – but being good at what you do, and knocking it out of the park every time, and practicing three times harder than the other team – will cause you to be intimidating by default.  Agree?

  6. Welcome Dave! I guess when we walk out onstage we have to be bigger than life – a reason for us being there. Somehow, my goal as a motivational speaker is to translate and transfer that power so the members of my audience can be bigger in their own life. The question then becomes how do we stand out from the crowd big enough to get the job and then be real, authentic, giving enough so people connect with us? 

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