The Motivational Speaker

How do you motivate your audience? The question began in a LinkedIn group representing college faulty. “What music do you use on the first class to excite or calm your students?”  

My response was simple. Why do you need the music? Your passion for the subject, your energy and your genuine excitement should not only set the tone of the class but enhances the message.

The speaker, trainer or faculty is equal parts knowledge source, mentor, advisor and care taker, with a healthy dose of motivator. It is the motivational part that seems to be missing in many of the presentations I witness, including some of my own occasionally.

Yes, speakers like Anthony Robbins epitomizes the motivational speech. However, the true motivator may be the one whose goal is not one of making money, Robbins’ objective, but to drive people to action. During this and every election season the call to action is “vote for me,” or “vote for my candidate.”

I spent hours, days, weeks, mo… not months, but a good amount of time watching the RNC and DNC conventions. By far, the best motivational speaker was former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. Watch…

Gov. Granholm, regardless if you do or do not agree with her politically, did it right from entrance to exit. She moved the audience to frenzy. How? Here is my analysis.

1)      Her physical entry was the prelude of the energy of the speech. She was excited and the audience knew it. It was not the repeated rift from “Dancing in the Streets.” Every speaker has “motivational” music. It was Granholm’s non-verbals that set the stage. It was her walk, her “excited arms,” her standing tall and her lively step.

2)     The Ford Motor Company and laid off employees story was both a phoenix story, from the ashes came a great rebirth, and the “damsel in distress” story of the American auto industry. It made this speech “Audience Centered.”

         Yes, the purpose was to praise the President as the handsome prince, but more importantly, like the stories Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White, it is not about the prince as much as the one saved.

3)     Listen to her voice. Even during her story, Granholm maintained the energy, the pathos. She slowed her tempo just enough to say “this is a sad story, but there is a happy ending.” As she transitioned to the “saving the damsel,” her tempo increases. The tone raises about two notes enhancing her energy.

4)     She enters what I call “the preacher mode.” Elongating words, using pauses and timing to emphasize the “evils” of the other side and larger physical movements leading the audience to the crescendo.

5)     The elevator/shaft analogy created a wonderful visual, a great sound bite and a demonstration of humor. The phrase is easy to remember and repeat without changing the meaning. Following Ann Richard’s 1988 keynote address (“Poor George [H.W. Bush]. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”), the use of humor can be an excellent tool to make one’s point.

          There is a caution: If you do not know how to use or do not understand irony (think the Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Leonard) , the floor of all humor, do not try to be humorous. Again, watch Granholm’s non-verbals, her facial expressions, her leaning back in mocked indigence. Be fast, it last less than a half-second.

6)     Granholm’s use of the pause and tonality marked the transition to the rescue portion of the story. This combined with her other non-verbals created a deeper connection with the audience, setting them up for the final motivational push.

7)     Audience centering continued with the inclusion of other states and the jobs saved, emphasizing the importance of the upcoming section while maintaining audience control.

          It is that latter that many speech coaches, faculty and speaker neglect. It is the job of the speaker to not only control the logic of his own speech, but general control of the audience. Use transitions that say, “What I am about to say is important, so listen closely.” Bill Clinton did it in his address to the convention with his “And this is important,” and “Now listen to this” transitions.

8)     The roll call created the energy for the final motivational push. Granholm’s projection, energy and pathos, her point and call recognition of the eight states most affected by the auto downturn, all swing states, reemphasized the connection with the audience. The elongation and emphasis of words brought the audience to the crescendo of the speech.

        Her unscripted fist pumps was the physical verification of excitement. Granholm becomes louder, increasing the energy to maintain the pathos for the upcoming hero’s recognition. Though the audience knew the ending, the anticipation remained – who is the hero, who saved our jobs and the American middle class?

9)     By now, Granholm is no longer a former governor, a celebrity on stage, or the orator. She is one of the rescued. Yet Granholm maintained control of the audience, allowing them to continue the chant, but calling them to order to hear the story’s end and moral.

10)    The call and response transition to the close put emphasis on the audience and the hero, not the speaker or speech.

11)    Granholm maintained the automotive theme. The Drive/Reverse analogy is fully understood by the audience, in the hall and in the home. It also emphasized the campaign’s slogan, “Forward.”

         Her physical verification of the juxtaposed directions added emphasis. She maintained the energy to the very end. Benjamin Hart of the Huffington Post wrote, “with the crowd in a frenzy, Granholm stepped away from the podium and pumped her fist repeatedly, pro-athlete style.”

I spoke to a friend who was on the floor of the convention Thursday evening. He said, “No one heard the exit music. Our throats were raw. We believed nothing could bring us down… ever.”

I do not expect anyone to meet the level of pathos and energy displayed by Gov. Granholm. You, however, should seek a level of excitement appropriate for yourself, your topic and the situation. You do not need music or pictures or silly opening games to excite your audience, participants or students. That is your job. That is one of the reasons people came to your program or course; your pathos.

Ask yourself, “How am I going to keep them here and return for more?

How much passion do you have for your topic? Do you want others to empathize with you? Are you having fun when you speak? Do you get excited when someone asks a question? Do you motivate?

Or are you so out of touch with your audience that they are busy playing Angry Birds on their tablets and phones? 

David Rosman and InkandVoice Communication provide Speech and Business Communication training, consulting and speech writing services. For more information, contact David at


About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
This entry was posted in Business, Business Communication, Education, Organizational Communication, Persuasion/Negotiation, Politics, politics, Public Speaking and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.