How Mirror Neurons Get Me Standing Ovations

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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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What do mirror neurons have to do with motivational speaking?

I think I’m channeling Sheldon from Big Bang Theory on this post. I never thought I would be writing about mirror neurons in the brain, and I certainly never thought they would have a business application in the world of motivational speaking. But today I stand corrected.

I have always believed that the key to getting booked as a motivational speaker, is having a good product. The speech is your product. The speech is what takes you to the spotlight. You can’t sell or market your way out of the chorus line.

You MUST be able to connect to your audience as a motivational speaker

I have always believed that one of the key ingredients in creating a stellar speech is your ability to connect with that audience.  It’s my ability to really connect with people from all walks of life that has served me well in my career. For fifteen years I have studied words and how to use them to connect with my audience in the form of story, comedy, and content. But it wasn’t until recently that I understand WHY and HOW I was able to do it so effectively.

What in the heck is a mirror neuron?

I was working with one of my coaching clients on his speech when I got totally distracted by his message about mirror neurons in the brain, and how they can help us with our relationships. (His name is Dean Smith, and I’ve attached a video below of him explaining the whole mirror neuron thing). He was explaining to me how the thoughts I have about someone are somehow transmitted and received by the person I am talking to – BEFORE I EVER SAY A WORD. Hello. Mind blown. This may be old news to you, and I had even heard of this before, but now it was clicking like never before. Suddenly I saw one of the reasons I was so effective at my job.

You see, I have this habit of loving people. It’s weird, I know.  It’s kind of a faith thing, really. I ask God to help me see people as He does.  And I happen to believe that God sees past our faults and our scars – straight through to our heart. Not only that, I CHOOSE to see the good in people even if it’s not apparent.  So when I walk into a room, get on a plane, attend a meeting, or stand in front of an audience, I make it a point to like them.  When I come across people, I make it a point to think things like:

  • I see you and you matter.
  • Thank you for the work you do. I hope you feel valued as you clean my hotel room.
  • You are beautiful even with that scar on your face.
  • You’re not just a cab driver, you’re a dad, paving a new way for your son. Be proud.
  • You can do this. I know it will be hard, but I believe in you.

Call me strange, but I am very proactive about how I think about people. Do I always get it right? Heck no. One eye roll from that woman behind the counter and my good attitude disappears. But most of the time I find myself naturally loving on people in my mind.  Or at least trying to.

Now that I look back, I even did it in college, which explains why I had the reputation for attracting the people who had problems making friends. And probably explains why the guys I went out with never stuck around for long.  Not good to be on a first date thinking, “I love you. I believe in you. I want to have your children.”

Who knows why I am this way.  Maybe because being the picked on kid gave me an empathy for other people. Doesn’t really matter.  I truly believe this is why people talk to me on planes and share their deepest secrets and say things like, “I don’t why I’m telling you this, I never talk to people on planes.”  It’s why cab drivers hug me when they drop me off at the airport. It’s why people believe me when I talk to them from the stage.

So what does this have to do with making money as a motivational speaker?

For the first time, I’m seeing my success as a motivational speaker from a different perspective. This isn’t about performance, or story, or content, or even what I want to say to my audience – even though all of that is still crucial.

This is about how I FEEL about them – how I CHOOSE to feel about them – from the moment I put pen to paper, to the moment I walk into the room until the moment I leave. This is about the subliminal messaging I’m sending to them.

Why does it work?


And when you make people feel like THAT – you’ve entered into a very deep point of connection. Once you get here, you have them in the palm of your hand.

So how do we do this?

For me, it’s already part of my thought process naturally. But this new heightened awareness will make me pay more attention and find those moments where I’m not doing this for some reason. For you, maybe this is a radical new thing. So I suggest you make a note that you will see before you write a speech – a note reminding you to picture them sitting across from you as you write, and what you think about them – how you love on them.  I suggest you find a way to slip yourself a note before you go give that speech, when you’re about to walk into the room and mingle, before you get on stage, and even as you meet and greet people after the program and sign books.  And I would even encourage you, if you truly believe your calling is to bring hope and motivation to the world – to go EVERYWHERE with this new philosophy. And watch what happens. But get ready… can be quite exhausting sometimes.  But it’s worth it.

In closing…….The speaking business has a tendency to create divas with big egos and overblown impressions of who we are. Spending years in a career where people clap for you wherever you go, can sometimes create in us a false sense of superiority. Sometimes we tend to elevate ourselves above our audience.  But this is not how we connect to an audience.  I’m all about believing in yourself and understanding your worth, but I’m more about connecting with those you serve. And if you truly want to make it in this business, get booked often, get repeated standing ovations – it’s not just about delivering a good show – it’s about connecting with your audience.  And I truly believe that if you walk on that stage with thoughts about how important you are, thoughts about how much of a star you are, thoughts about how they are lucky to have you, thoughts about how you can’t wait to get out of there – your audience will know it – even before you say a word.  It’s why I still hang on to the fundamental truth about motivational speaking:

You can’t care about your audience, until you care about your audience.

And so I leave you with this question:

What are you thinking about your audience? And if you truly do care about your audience, do your words reflect it?

As always, if you need my help in crafting your masterpiece, I’m only a phone call away. 1-800-303-1049

Coaching Resources can be found on my website:

Until we meet again, know this: I love you. I respect you. You matter. You can do this. I believe in you.

Here’s my friend Dean explaining to me what mirror neurons are. Check it out!


Kelly Swanson