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VOL. 126 | NO. 37 | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Susan Drake

From Zooties to Superfantastic


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Can a motivational speaker really contribute to your company’s performance? The trick is to hire the right person with the right message for the right group. You’ve gotta know your audience and know your speaker. And just because a speaker is famous doesn’t mean they’re effective.

I’ve hired Olympic champions, management gurus, news legends and sales pros, among others. I’ve hit the mark and I’ve missed it. So let me give you some tips that I’ve gleaned from my own experience and from the guidance of a great guy – Brian Palmer, the head of the National Speakers Bureau.

“Audiences are more demanding today,” says Brian. “While they’re sitting in that room listening, their text messages, voice mail, e-mail are all piling up, which means they want their time to be well-used.”

According to Brian, “Half the people want their intellect improved and half want their hearts and emotions touched, so effective speakers reach both the minds and hearts of the audience.” He says that when you’re reviewing video of a potential speaker, watch your watch; make sure that every two to four minutes the speaker elicits some type of emotive response, whether it’s laughter or tears.

While it’s tempting to hire a speaker when he or she is “hot,” that is new to the circuit, that’s generally not the best time to engage them. They need time to practice, hone and refine their presentation skills before they’ll be at their peak performance level.

And when you’re considering a seasoned speaker, make sure they’ve evolved and kept their message relevant.

Involvement is another key to creating a great presentation. Audiences want to feel they are a part of the event, not being preached at. Speakers who invite participation are effective because they get the audience engaged.

Sometimes you may think a speaker is a bit too off-the-wall for your group. I think of Amanda Gore, who uses sparklers and talks about Zooties, but regularly wows audiences no matter how corporate or straitlaced they are. On the other end of the spectrum is Olympic medalist and commentator Scott Hamilton, who stands perfectly still and calmly mesmerizes people with his message of overcoming physical adversity. And finally, in tribute, let me mention the late Keith Harrell, a man who overcame stuttering and shyness to become a speaker recognized by his catchphrase, “Superfantastic!” and his over-the-top enthusiasm and attitude. A standout basketball star in Seattle, Keith inspired thousands with his message of maintaining a positive attitude. More importantly, he was known for his generosity and love for people. He died at 54.

And that brings me to the most important factor in motivation: genuineness. If you want someone whose message will leave a lasting impression on your audience, choose a speaker who comes from the heart. Passion is always contagious.

Susan Drake is president of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at susand@spellbindersinc.com.

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