Have You Been Trying Hard to Sell a Motivational Message No One Wants?

Motivational speakers usually go into the speaking profession because they have an overpowering need to share an important message. We never doubt that the world wants and needs our message, and how they want it delivered. My colleague Brittany believes that people need to stop worrying about body image. My buddy Ruben believes that people need to save more and spend less. And Steven thinks that people need to quit what they’re doing and consider the predicament of the endangered blue whale.

Early in my motivational speaking career, I was sure that humor was the key and my audiences just needed somebody to make them laugh. And the less they purchased it, the harder I tried to sell it. Like many motivational speakers, I invested a lot of time developing my message and attempting to impact my audience without genuinely knowing my audience or the market. A lot of us miss the critical step of allowing our audience to play a role in the process of developing our brand. Typically we will leave them out entirely, only bringing them in when it’s all over to evaluate our performance. Then we use those evaluations to beat ourselves up or whine that our audience doesn’t get us.

My error hit me between the eyes when I spoke at an association convention a couple of years back. The client was acquainted with my stlye, having seen me at a bureau showcase. We discussed the event and its objectives and I then turned around and wrote a presentation driven by what they wanted. Or what I thought they wanted. I thought I knew the audience. This was a great opportunity with the prospect of a lot of spin off work, so i really worked hard researching and creating the perfect custom presentation. Ten minutes in and I could see that I had made a mistake. I didn’t exactly know what it was, but you don’t have to be a genius to figure out you’re bombing. The customer seriously seemed troubled.

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During the first restroom break she took me aside and whispered, “We’re tired of speakers all getting up there and doing the same thing. We wanted something different. That’s why we hired you. Please discard your notes and just do what we watched you do in your showcase.” I gave my notes the heave-ho, and did the storytelling and comedy that makes me distinctive. I got eight more jobs from members of that association. Turns out that what I thought they wanted wasn’t anything close to what they truly wanted. I was embarrassed for some time after that. However, when I got to the point where I could consider the incident without cringing, I concluded that I gain the most from my embarassing mistakes. Lastly, I was more in tune with what my audience wanted. Once you actually (truly, without a doubt) find out what your audience wants, there isn’t any stopping you.

Do you know the ways you can get your audience’s input?

  1. Get assessments or send questionaires to your customers and fans asking them what they like about your program and the things they would like to see more of.
  2. Seriously consider what the audience members tell you after your presentation. The people who wait to speak to you after your presentation will certainly tell you what they most appreciated.
  3. Ask the meeting planner who hired you to explain why they booked you over someone else. This provides you with a good insight to why you get booked.
  4. Survey your associates, fans, and clients (people who’ve seen you speak) and ask them to give you three words that they think best describe you as a speaker. Their answers may surprise you. You might discover that what you think are your most desirable qualities really aren’t.
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