7 Things Business Leaders Can Learn From Motivational Speakers

by Elizabeth Dukes on February 10, 2016

Have you ever listened to a powerful speaker? Perhaps it was a keynote address at a recent conference, or a particularly inspirational TED Talk. Maybe it was in a political address, a religious sermon or from a really good teacher. Whatever the source, motivational speakers offer business leaders a gold mine of best practices. From commanding attention and engaging their audiences to inspiring real change, a good speaker yields results.

To help you cultivate this presence in your business, we’ve outlined the top seven things business leaders can learn from motivational speakers.

1. Be Human

All too often, business leaders are expected to be an unemotional, buttoned-up, shining example of professionalism. While it’s certainly true you should never be inappropriate, this doesn’t mean you can’t be human.

Some of the best speeches in history have been those when leaders showed their emotional side. Share a mistake you’ve made and how you overcame it, give a glimpse of the person you are outside of work or talk about something that’s touched or inspired you on a personal level. By sharing this side of yourself, your team members will feel more comfortable in your presence.

business-presentation.jpg2. Ask, Don’t Tell

No one likes to be told what to do. Making hard demands shows your team you assume they lack the authority or conviction to play a role in decisions. Worst of all, it undermines their intelligence.

You’re in your position because you’ve worked hard, grown your knowledge base and deepened your skill set, but that doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Instead of rattling off a list of things your employees should be doing, ask for suggestions and feedback. By flipping the tables and making your employees part of the process, they’ll be more likely to buy-in to changes and see them through. Even better, they’ll become more autonomous.

3. Relate to Your Audience

People like speakers who remind them of themselves. Call it egocentricity or self-absorption, but it’s true. We’re naturally drawn to people who share similar challenges and concerns in their lives and careers, and who can empathize with our situation.

For ultimate relatability, do your homework. What pain points does your audience face? If you’re speaking to your own team, be sure to touch on specific roadblocks or issues they’re brought to your attention in the past. Call upon company inside jokes, shared experiences and past wins. The more you speak about the topics your audience cares about most, the more likely they are to stay engaged.

4. Boost Confidence

What is the most common trait among successful people? Confidence, according to a study by the University of Melbourne. People who exhibit greater self-confidence perform better and often advance more quickly than those who exhibit low self-esteem. In other words, if you want to help your team improve, then you need to help increase their level of confidence.

As a leader, your employees look to you for affirmation and validation. A simple “job well done” can transform the way they feel about their work, and increase dedication. Motivational speakers know building people up is the best way to inspire change. By sharing gratitude for your team, listing their strengths and showing you trust and believe in them to achieve objectives, they’ll become more loyal. After all, once someone tells you they know you’re capable, the last thing you want is to let them down.

5. Cultivate a Team Mentality

Remember high school pep rallies? Even if you weren’t particularly interested in sports, you couldn’t help but leave the auditorium with at least a little pride for the home team. As the alma mater played, the lines between various cliques blurred and fused into one entity hell-bent on victory over the opposing team. It was powerful and inspiring.

The most effective speakers are those who can recreate that same allegiance and team spirit. Use “we” instead of “you” or “I,” and remind your employees of the various reasons why your organization is a better option than your competitors. When teams de-silo and rally together around a common belief, great things happen.

6. Use Humor

Humor humanizes. It helps people relax, evokes pleasurable feelings and, most importantly, it makes people pay attention. By sprinkling bits of humor throughout a meeting, you’ll help your team feel more positive while simultaneously keeping them alert and interested.

But, in order to use humor correctly, you need to determine which brand of humor will resonate best with your audience. Snarky? Satirical? Slapstick? You never want to venture into unprofessional territory, so be sure to censor yourself. Additionally, don’t force it. If you try to hard to be funny, your jokes will likely fall flat. Often the best humor is off-the-cuff.

business-woman-presentation.jpg7. Exercise Brevity

Friedrich Nietzsche is famously quoted as saying, “It is my ambition to say in 10 sentences what others say in a whole book.”

Unless you’re paid by the word (and, as a speaker, this isn’t likely), it will always behoove you to be brief. While this doesn’t mean all of your meetings and presentations should be two-minute miracles, you should work to err on the shorter side.

This is for two reasons:

1. Attention spans are waning. According to a Canadian study, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. (To put that in perspective, it’s one second less than that of a goldfish.) The faster and more action-packed your points, the more likely your listeners are to retain what you’re saying.

2. It shows respect for your employees’ time. Everyone is busy and, chances are, while you’re talking, your team members are mentally going through their to-do lists. By keeping your chats brief, you show consideration for their time.

If you’re not sure how to begin implementing the above strategies, review a few examples. Watch your favorite TED talks or famous speeches and make note of what keeps you engaged. By sharing your human side, asking questions, being relatable, boosting your team’s confidence, inspiring camaraderie, adding natural humor and keeping it brief, you’ll wow your audience and ensure your message comes across loud and clear.

Are you doing everything possible to keep today’s employees engaged? Check out our visual guide, The Workplace of the Future, to help you future-proof your workspace.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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