I Hate Motivational Speakers

I hate motivational speakers. But I loved you.

That was a comment I heard yesterday from someone who had just listened to my keynote speech. And while it is the first time time anybody has actually ever said it to my face, I know she's not the only one. Far from it.

When I came into the speaking business, the word "motivational speaker" was already on its way out. I was told not to use the word because it had a negative connotation. And despite the fact that Chris Farley and his trailer by the river showed me what most people thought of motivational speakers, and despite the scathing articles written on how motivational speakers are a waste of money, I held on to that title. Why? Because I didn't know what else to call myself. Comedian wasn't enough. Storyteller wasn't enough. I was more than that. My heart wanted to do more than make you laugh, it wanted to make you feel good too.I wasn't focused on how much information I could give you in an hour, I was more focused on how I could make you feel about yourself and your ability to use that information. I truly wanted to give you courage and make you feel appreciated and valued. That's not what a trainer does, it's what a motivational speaker does. And rather than create a word that nobody searches for on Google. I held strong.

But my mind still asks the question, "Why do people hate motivational speakers?"

And I don't blame the people, I blame the speakers.

And why did this woman walk in hating motivational speakers, and walking out loving me?

It's an important question, and one that may make the difference in whether a motivational speaker gets business or not. So I am giving this a lot of thought. And as you know by my posts, I tend to think out loud.

What makes me different from the stereotype?

Am I better? While I'd like to think so, I don't believe that's it.

Is my content more cutting edge? Far from it. I'm still preaching the same truths that have been around for centuries.

Do I look better? (Pause for me to laugh, as I stuff my face with another donut and praise the elastic in my sweat pants).  I hate to even ask the question, because it's stupid. But many of you out there think that the prize goes to the prettiest, and that's simply not true. That woman didn't like me becuase of my outfit.

Is it because I entertained at the same time? Getting warmer, but I'm sure some of those motivational speakers of days gone by, who contributed to the bad reputation we have somehow earned, were entertaining too.

Was it the stories? Getting hot. I'm sure that the stories have far more impact than my content and my jokes. But I don't think that's really it.

Was it because I was funny? Even hotter. They sure do love to laugh, and humor gives me the edge almost every time. But that other speaker was sort of funny too and that didn't keep them from dosing off.

So what is it? What's the million dollar secret answer that made her rethink her view on motivational speakers?

I think I know. I think there's one thing that just might make the difference.

I made a connection.

Sounds too simple, right?

But I think it just may be the key. Somehow she connected with me – not my content or my message – but me. The FIRST thing that has to happen before someone can take in my message, is that I must somehow earn the right to be taken seriously, to be trusted, to be believed. She put her trust in me. She believed me. She found me authentic. Only until she knew me, was she willing to then listen to what I had to say. I made a personal connection, which turned into a lasting impression. And that has nothing to do with talent, content, appearance, or even skill at communicating. It's not about the art of communicating, it's about the art of connecting. And there is a BIG difference.

And now I know what my next book is about – the book I started yesterday – the book I am now writing on the Power of Making A Personal Connection. And I have a feeling that it's not just for speakers.

So I leave you with this question: How are you at connecting with people?





Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
To book motivational speaker Kelly Swanson:
Motivational speaker Kelly Swanson's website

Did you enjoy this post? Just jot down your email and we'll keep you up-to-date with all of our motivation and entertainment.

Delivered by FeedBurner


  1. Oh wow, Kelly. Yes, motivational speakers do get a bad rap sometimes – and I believe it is for the EXACT reasons of which you speak. Sadly, some of us have EARNED that negative connotation. And interestingly – and I am NOT KIDDING ABOUT THIS – I had the almost exact thing happen to me about two weeks ago at an event. A woman came up to me and said, "I don't like motivational speakers – but I really liked you."   The only difference is that you walked away and did your brilliant Kelly Swanson thing and asked WHY?  I just walked away going, "Awww. That was so nice of her."  I like YOUR response better! I'm learning from it! Thank you!!!

  2. And, you, Linda, are the MASTER at connecting. You truly have the genuine desire to help them – to make it about them, and not about you. And it all starts with the motivate to connect. And you got it!

  3. oops. meant to say "motive to connect"

  4. It's an epidemic!  This just happened to me as well as you Linda, and Kelly!  A women said, "I really wasn't thrilled about knowing there was a motivational speaker at our luncheon.  But, you really changed my thinking!"   I know I've heard it a lot, but Kelly, the way you have framed it makes me really think about how we are seen in this industry!  Thanks for a great post.

  5. Do I?  Oh, do I connect?? As the newest motivational speaker on the block I am soaking in this very important observation of yours Kelly.  Especially because my topic of health and wellness is so closely connected to "appearance" in most people's eyes and I'm trying to turn that thinking around so they look on the inside instead of the outside for health.  New sticky note reminder of "Connect" going up on my wall right now!

  6. Outstanding post, and boy am I fortunate to have connected with all of you. In my heart I always want to connect with the audience, work hard at it, but I know I can improve. Thanks for breaking down the ways to connect so clearly, just like you break down your audience's barriers that allow them to feel one with you.

Speak Your Mind