Does Motivational Speaking Work or is it a Fable for a Few Hours?

Does Motivational Speaking Work?
Motivational speaking is intended to motivate or inspire the audience. This MissionSelf post explains whether motivational speaking works or not, and the reasons for the same.
"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily."
― Zig Ziglar, American author and motivational speaker
Motivation originates from the Latin wordmotivus or movere, which means, 'to move'. From thereon comes the concept of 'motive' and 'motivation'. The basic idea thus, is 'to get a move on', to exhibit goal-focused behavior. We are all born with a reason, and we cultivate newer goals as we grow up and begin to understand the world. Motivation becomes absolutely essential when we lose track of or forget these goals. Motivational speaking revolves around general inspiration, to motivate every individual to overcome all odds and achieve what he/she wishes to.
The theory however, is also vastly used in the corporate world, where employees are motivated and encouraged to do better. On the professional front, good growth opportunities and compensation are a couple of factors that act as motivators. Motivational speakers speak at company meetings and universities to inspire others, to help them identify their innate qualities and achieve their dreams and aspirations to do well for themselves and others around them. How far does this strategy really work, though? Through the paragraphs below, you'll understand if motivational speeches really work, what they intend at, and why.
Motivational Speaking: The Concept and Types
  • A majority of motivational speakers speak through their own experiences, while many others focus on quoting inspirational sayings, speaking about similar incidents, and educating the audience about why they should remain motivated so as to benefit themselves and their personal and professional lives.
  • Most of the case studies have reported that motivational speeches are effective; however, the debate regarding whether they are actually effective or not has probably risen from the observation that many people have felt the effects of the speech wearing off within a few days; the motivational factor does not stay for long.
  • There are numerous reasons for the same, to understand them, you must first understand the types of motivation and their effects.
  • From a management point of view, motivation can be divided into two types: Intrinsic and extrinsic.
  • Intrinsic motivation is when the motivational factor is inherent―it comes from within, wherein the individual has a genuine desire to feel motivated, to do well, to have goals and achieve them, and to cherish the feeling of independence, acceptance, and social status.
  • Extrinsic motivation is when an individual tends to feel motivated when he is offered extra gains, like compensation, rewards, benefits, etc.
Effects Of Motivational Speaking
  • Motivational speakers have experienced either intrinsic, extrinsic, or a combination of both types of motivation. They have been through trials and tribulations, and intend to encourage and spread the same positivity to others.
  • A majority of them are genuinely sympathetic and caring, though there may be a part of this number that may be more interested in the commercial gain of this activity rather than actually encouraging people. However, generalizing that all motivational speakers are out to con you is not true. At the end of the day, one has to accept that whatever these speakers say does have a positive effect on the individual, at least for a while.
  • The underlying problem is the ever-running pace of the modern world, the quick turnaround into the rut of daily life. After hearing a motivational speech, an individual is lost for a while, into the wonderful world of positivity and goodness and hope. However, he/she fails to realize that this situation, this motivation has come after enormous struggles and tears and pain.
  • Leaving out the experience of the actual problem, the fears, the troubles encountered along the way, is possibly what creates a void, which has led people to distrust themselves and the speakers.
  • Thus, one of the main problems with motivational speakers is the seemingly different circumstances. Of course, this may not always be the case in a corporate scenario.
  • In general, instances of a diabetic climbing the tallest peak in the world, or anyone having a disability and yet achieving a position of excellence in their lives, are very inspirational to listen to, but every person has a different goal in life, and the scenarios may be completely different.
  • Therefore, even though, one might be impressed, in awe, or feel encouraged to an extent, the effect wears off after a while due to the gap between the speaker and his audience, since every person is different, has a different mentality, a different problem, and a different approach to the situation and reality.
  • No denying the positive effects either―there are millions who have been moved and motivated by motivational speakers, and rightly so. 'If they can do it, so can I', is the general attitude. And yet, at times, you find people saying, 'Oh, that's great. But, I cannot do it.'.
  • This is possibly because the speaker has been speaking about his personal situation, which the audience may or may not relate to. The dynamics do not match.
  • For instance, if an entrepreneur were to give a motivational speech to a bunch of corporate officers, they may connect with him immediately, understand the policies of the company, and work harder towards their goals. This motivation may also be influenced by fear, power, and incentives, as mentioned earlier. If an employee performs well, he is definitely rewarded, which acts as a motivational factor.
  • However, this kind of speech may or may not be very encouraging to someone who has been through a bad accident and lost his limbs. To motivate such a person, a part of the motivation has to come from the heart; the desire to overcome obstacles and stand on one's feet. Only someone who has personally been through a similar situation can understand the same. The effects are thus, a mixture of positives and negatives.
Does it Work?
  • Yes, it works, and at the same time, it doesn't. This is a matter of perspective.
  • In a professional setting, an employee who performs well may be rewarded, but what kind of motivation is being provided to the employee who is not performing very well? What kind of incentive is he getting? In such a case, the fact that a fellow employee is doing well may not be an encouragement booster, on the contrary, it may very well lay the grounds for intolerance, favoritism, and jealousy, which leads to an unfavorable office atmosphere.
  • Outside a corporate scenario, the world has witnessed innumerable motivational speakers who have touched the lives of many with their sheer courage and acceptance. There have been instances where people have been motivated by them and have changed their habits, their approach, and their attitude and have striven to achieve what they wanted.
  • There have also been instances, when people, either out of their own insecurity or indifference, have not allowed their lives to undergo any change, are scared of taking risks and facing failure.
  • To state that this attitude could be attributed to a failure of motivational speaking may be extremely judgmental; certainly, one need not be jealous or insecure about how people overcame their obstacles! It has to be inspiring, even if you do not follow it. This depends totally on the individual―whether he wants to feel discouraged ad unhappy, or he is willing to take the plunge to feel motivated and happy.
The Verdict
  • To sum up, you cannot say that motivational speaking will be a solution to all your problems. But, it is certainly a contributing factor.
  • All the same, hearing out-of-the-world exploits serve as a fascinating story for some, is truly inspiring for others, and does not affect some at all.
  • The consensus would be to look at the brighter aspect of the situation and use the same to set your goals in life and achieve them.
  • At the same time, one should not begin to day-dream―it is one of the poisonous demotivating factors. Reality should be the focus; it is a difficult task indeed, but not an impossible one, certainly, to cope with the pressures of everyday life and achieve what you want.
  • To answer the question here, yes, motivational speaking does work, only if one has the inclination for it to work, understand one's own circumstances, and work towards one's goal steadily. It may not work if one is hell-bent on listening to the talk just for the sake of listening, not willing to understand that every situation is different, and worse of all, looking at the pessimistic side of things.
We all need a little push at times, a little motivation to do better and be the best. So yes, motivational speeches may be essential at times, to rouse us out of the world we have created for ourselves and look at the bigger picture. Whether they work or not depends completely on our mindset.
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