Motivational speakers. Fact or fallacy?

I have been a speaker for the past 12 years. I am proud of the fact that I AM NOT A MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER. I am a business speaker.

I have had the privilege of speaking to executives and shop-floor workers. It is shocking to me that companies still think that they can obfuscate their people motivation. You hear things like , “my people are just not motivated” or “get them fired up for THE YEAR” as if motivation is something you can get in a can.

This thinking is so archaic that it should frankly be outlawed.

Here are 3 reason why you cant get someone external to motivate your people.

1. Motivation is a personal thing 

Over the past decade I have been invited by companies to come and speak to their people. The next year the same companies invite another to speak to the same employees about the same thing. There is word for this, it’s called stupidity. Doing the same thing year-on-year, with clear evidence of the same result, yet each time expecting markedly different outcomes.

Companies need to accept that motivation is not something you can give to someone else. Bar the rewards manouvering that happens at HR which should – at least in spirit – link a persons’ KPAs to their salaries, there is in truth no human way to transfer motivation. You either have it for yourself or you don’t. 

The real discipline is making the commitment to hire people that are internally motivated, have a high internal locus of control and are linked to the value system  of the company.


a. Hire the right people;
b. Link their remuneration to actual behaviour;
c. Invest in a strong HR system;
d. Don’t expect the quick fix;

2. A YEAR is a long time 

My second quibble is around the expected time period of impact. Companies still think that they can book a “Yes we can” man, and that this will for for the next year gift them delighted, invested and motivated employees. That their employees will (almost zombie-like) pitch up on time, take instruction fully and execute to perfection as well as work beyond their call of duty. All this just because some hallow-like figure spoke to them.

No. That will NEVER happen. 

Motivation is not a feeling. It’s a system of behaviour. Take some time. Read that statement again and internalise it. If you want to motivate your people then start first by building a system of behaviour linked to people’s rewards that makes their behaviour in the workplace personal and links to it their own individual ambitions.

What is required is for executives to build a model of motivation that is honest to the challenges they face. Ensure that the system is assiduously applied throughout the year and keep your people accountable to it.

3. Often, the manager is the problem

Here is a bit of truth: if you persistently need to invite external “motivational speakers” to speak to your people then you must concede that perhaps you, the manager or the company’s systems of motivation are the problem.

What is required is for companies to build competence where it matters.

1. Yes. Hire a speaker. But not these general I can speak on anything for a buck speaker. Make sure he is a subject matter expert. Ask him for references and call those references to confirm his quality of work. Then,

2. Build a culture of motivation: Support the work of the speaker with a system of action that builds on his invitation. Ensure that people who behave in the desired way are celebrated, their behaviour illustrated (scream about it) and then share it with the business. Make the celebration of motivated people a culture.

3. Task HR build a system that will automate and make the rewarding of people that are motivated real & then demonstrate those behaviours as real living way of working.

Speakers are part a system. Not the system. If you ever meet or interview a speaker that tells you they can do it all, RUN!

Vusi Thembekwayo
Speaker. Investor. Disruptor.