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Motivational Speaker “not” wanted

Motivational Speaker image by Matthew Broomhead

I noticed a typical request on social media asking for a “motivational talk on team working” for a corporate day from an academically very intelligent and talented person. As expected various people were recommending their contacts including representatives of sports personalities.

It was all perfectly normal. I understand you can’t include all the details in a short request, but everyone seemed to be missing the main point. So I posted the following short response…

“Can I kindly suggest that whoever you speak to, then make sure the first question they ask you is “why do you want a motivational talk on team working? When your people were hired they were “motivated” and they’re paid to “work”, so what’s the real issue?” If you just want to entertain your team as a thank you, then get a stand-up comic like James Cook – it’ll be much more fun.”

For four out of five event organisers that is not the response they want to hear because it doesn’t make their life easier in the short term. If a number of years ago my line manager had asked me to get a “motivational speaker” in for the lunchtime masterclasses I wouldn’t have had the confidence to question “why?” So I understand.

My mission is to raise the level of business skills in Britain, so let me explore this more with you.

If an organisation wants to make improvements in team working then sitting for an hour listening to some famous sports athlete may not be the best return on investment (they typically start from £5,000 for 45 minutes if you can get someone that people will heard of).

I would suggest that sport is different to business primarily because you have an absolutely clearly defined end delivery date – for example the Olympics or Common Wealth games are every four years.

Even though we obviously have project deadlines, business is more fluid with end dates been modified by clients. If you are running 400m, then someone doesn’t come along and say I know we agreed 400m and that’s what you have prepared for, but we need you to do 500m. In the world of sport that would be absurd. In business that happens every day.

Virtually all athletic ventures are a solitary pursuit. Yes the ones lucky enough to be sponsored have nutritional, physio and coaching support, but the end goal is solitary. They are totally focused and have an utterly obsessed routine for years.  Even the few relay race “teams” seem to be dominated by a few famous individuals. I know there are some transferable skills of goal setting, visualising what success looks like and consistency, but as a talk I am not sure how relatable that is to “Maureen” in finance who has been asked to manage a team that don’t want to be at work and a line manager with poor interpersonal skills.

There is a place for every type of speaker. In certain contexts if you’re a wealthy cash rich corporate that wants to give a certain appearance of who it mixes with and the audience includes clients that are passionate about the sport that the speaker worked in, then that’s absolutely appropriate. But don’t get confused with creating “motivation” within your organisation that will impact the bottom line.

So what is an alternative that is more practical, more valuable to the business, and more relevant than a motivational speaker?

There are significant benefits to getting in external suppliers. I heard that a senior person at HP said “we use external small boutique consultants otherwise we’d breathe our own exhaust“.

Here is something different to encourage your team to understand each other better and become more productive.

Have the corporate day as normal, but instead of some “motivational speaker” ask the team to present instead.

Hang on a moment Matthew! If my team is not used to public speaking then how do I encourage them?

Use an skilled external facilitator to provide a few short skills sessions on presenting (max 90 minutes each) to give them the skills and self-confidence. Then facilitate and coach the team on deciding what to share at the event and how. This activity enables then to be better presenters (which is a rare and valuable transferable skill) and encourages them to work in small teams to put together their own presentation(s) for the corporate event. This creates more buy in from everyone.

By facilitating your existing team to provide “the motivational” talk slot then it helps establish numerous things including:

  • Who works well with each other?
  • Who doesn’t work so well with others?
  • Who takes a leadership role.
  • How resilient are they in different scenarios.
  • Other departments gain better understanding of what they do once they present.
  • You can see who the talented public speakers are and who you would be comfortable putting in front of a client and represent your organisation.
  • Who is really worth promoting?
  • They practically learn skills that as an organisation you can utilise in the future.

I did this for a professional services firm and it gave me a valuable insight into who I would recommend for future directors/equity partners. Identifying the people actually worth investing more resources into is extremely valuable. I.e. Instead of relying on the assumption that because “Deirdre” is a supervisor, she would handle more responsibility as a manager.

Directing appropriate resources to the most talented is vital for ensuing they stay in the company and help it to prosper.

Matthew Broomhead
“Raising the level of Business Skills in Britain”
Creator of Broomhead Business Channel

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