You Can’t Market Your Way To Stardom: Is Motivational Speaking A Business Or An Art?

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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Motivational Speaking Doesn’t Happen In One Step

So many people want to be motivational speakers. And they start out attacking it like a big hamburger. “How can I do this NOW?” they ask. “What’s the fastest route to the money? Who do I need to notice me?”

And this always perplexes me. It’s like someone who has never played a note, knocking on the door of the Grand Old Opry and saying ” I want to be a star. Who do I need to talk to?”  You don’t get the lead in The Nutcracker until you learn how to dance. Really really well. You don’t call the art gallery until you have spent years realizing how much you love to paint, and perfecting it.

Yet motivational speakers seem to want to skip this step. They want to sell the speaking before they ever perfect the speaking.

So maybe the problem is that speakers look at this like a business instead of an art.

Motivational speaking in all its facets takes on a new face when you stop looking at it like a business and look at it like an art form. And I think this is the perspective that serves you best. And really tells you whether this is for you. If you think you’re going to be a motivational speaker because “how hard could it be?” then you are in for a long hard road with little pay off.

Artists spend their lives entrenched in their craft – hours of sweat and dedication – not because we can, but because we can’t imagine not doing this. It overwhelms us, it excites us, it becomes part of who we are. And the final product is a creation, made to share with the world. A creation filled with emotion and pain and triumph, that tells the story of who we are, that tells the world we were here. That tells our story.

Yet many speakers see this as a calculated business and not an art. They give no time or thought or energy to the creation – the very thing they are selling – spending more time finding people to buy them, trying to get noticed, arrogantly assuming that what they have is worthy, despite the fact that they did not put any work into it- the half-ass science fair project thrown together by copying the model of the other students.

I believe that when speakers become artists they find their place, whether it’s center stage, or somewhere else where their efforts will serve them better.

I do believe that within everyone is an artist with the desire to create, the desire to share their experience, the desire to express their art. But sometimes they play it safe, do something else just because they can.

So am I right? Is motivational speaking an art or a business?

I think it’s the marriage of the two. An art we sell like a business. Something we do, not because we can, but because we have to. A calling. A knowledge that this is where we are supposed to be, whether it pays off or not, whether they like it or not – not because we can, but because we have to.

I think one of life’s tragedies is an unfinished symphony – or even worse, the symphony that never got started.
Kelly Swanson


  • ImanWoods

    This is so true for any craft!