Wanting to inspire or fire up the troops at a conference or event to achieve, deliver or create better value is one thing. Telling people they can fly, by hyping up their belief on a Friday and then watching them walk or drive back into work in the real world as Monday rolls around, is quite another. That’s the trouble with motivation; it feels great at the time but doesn’t last through the weekend. And you can’t buy it in a conference keynote speech or session.

With good reason I’m pleased to say motivational speakers – or snake oil salesmen if you will – have rapidly fallen from favour over the last decade. I still get lots of requests though, as a professional business conference speaker at around 180 conferences a year on the subject of Change, to ‘motivate the crowd’. And my potential clients are often perturbed when I decline and refuse to take the bait.

The mind-set around motivational speaking (some call it Inspirational speaking) is as old as the hills. Drawn from historical pages, it almost stretches back as far as early human history, and it’s easy to call up a mental image of a battle hardened general exhorting the troops to ‘go over the top’ or an ancient explorer urging the crew to ‘push on’ a little harder with the promise of instant riches or fame just across the horizon.

From such imagery easily springs the thought that the external modern ‘motivational speaker’ will be the ideal tonic to exhort a little more life into the sales team, or to shepherd the accounts department across the year end threshold. And therein lays the difficulty…

Sadly; it doesn’t and won’t work instantly as it is completely without substance. “Instant feel good’ never translates to the bottom line – it’s ephemeral at worst and tantalisingly temporary at best and sadly it’s what, in my opinion, the vast majority of so-called motivational speakers today have built their platforms on. It’s puffery.

Forbes Magazine ran a piece on motivational speaking a few years ago that really made me think. It said something mid-article that I wrote down at the time: “Maybe you (as a motivational speaker) can show people how to reach goals they think are impossible.  Maybe you can explain how the new economy works better than anyone else, guiding companies to succeed with innovative products and services.  Maybe you understand creativity and can share that understanding with teams, helping them become less stuck.” But sadly, Forbes got the title wrong… that’s not motivational stuff… that’s pragmatic business stuff which deserves to be professionally presented by business experts who can speak properly in an appropriate, resonant and engaging manner and tone. To my mind, the exclusive realm of professional business speakers lies in demonstrating they’ve got the relevant business chops to do so; first.

Solid professional business speakers will always have a tangible and credible career history behind them. They will, as a result, be able to package and offer practical hands-on conference content that is both meaningful and credible owing to their business pedigrees. They must have first cut their teeth in the real world, across corporate, commercial and entrepreneurial businesses in order to provide the content for their stories in order to carry this message into the hearts and minds of the audience. And theatrics is simply no substitute for this.

Don’t be misled or beguiled. When it comes to finding a superb speaker for your next event; inspect their papers first. Professional business presenters speak to serve a purpose… they will never offer platitudes or spin in a fist-pumping, fairy-tale styled package of breathy, sweaty and loud exhortations. Such presenter ‘packages’ may be entertaining… but are never result generating.

The audience, for whose benefit you’re booking speakers in the first place, certainly want energy but they need to be able to immediately identify and on-board the relevance and content for themselves in a tangible, meaningful and impactful manner. Only that will bring results.