Perks of being a motivational speaker

Akash Gautam shares the lessons that he learnt from being a motivational coach

It was the winter of 2001 and I had recently been sacked from my second job in the garment industry. One of the reasons for my termination that the employers cited was ‘de-motivating colleagues at workplace’. They were afraid that my fundas to my colleagues and juniors could increase the attrition rate in their organisation. Only 12 months back I had finished my Post Graduate degree from NIFT, New Delhi. Unfortunately, my dreams had found a severe displacement in the garb of ‘campus placement’. As an unemployed fresher, I made ends meet by singing songs every Saturday evening at a leading resto-bar in Connaught Place, New Delhi.

Between that mike at Connaught Place and the mikes at the large auditoriums or boardrooms across the world today—life has been kind to me. I had to change a lot about myself to get where I am today, including my long, flowing hair! My denim-and-leather–jacket look was too casual and got replaced with ‘how formal people wanted to see me’. I had to adopt a suited up image so that I could project a ‘successful professional’ image to the world. Being a motivational speaker has been a transformational, sometimes exasperating and completely inspiring experience. Here are some of the lessons that my chosen profession has taught me.

People don’t like to change

The last ten years of being a motivational speaker have not been easy. I have realised that people are not inspired to change simply because you offer them a better alternative. They change only when something that they truly value gets threatened. I’d say that’s the most profound observation about people I’ve made in my entire career as a coach. People may listen to motivational speakers or read inspiring books, but they only change when change is the only option left. I realised that my role as a success coach is to help them figure out the right direction of their life and to give them incentive to stay on their true paths.

This is my yardstick for measuring an effective motivational speaker: If in an audience of a 100 people, two or three people report a lasting change after a few months, you are an awesome motivational speaker.

Sadly, the success rate in my industry is that low! I can only help someone change an aspect of their life if they really desire the change.

Silence is good

Let me make a big confession. I am Punjabi and a speaker which means I am supposed to be an extrovert. But that’s just not true! If anything, in this last decade, I have learned that to be a good speaker—the kind that not only talks well but also gives out rich content—you need to be an introvert. 95% of the content in my events is obtained from observation. And that requires some serious off-the-stage-keeping-quiet skills. The depth of understanding about people and their ways comes from solitude. Behind that entire glamour is quietude and solitude. And to be honest, it feels good to be quiet after you have spoken for 4 hours straight!

Coaching is funny business

Humour and sarcasm has always been my style. And here I think I got lucky. My friends and classmates always regarded me as a funny person. I confess that this quality gives me an advantage in the world of motivational speaking. Anyone can do a session with a bunch of linguistically perfect sentences and parroted clichéd lines from self-help books. However, the impact of such a session is lost the moment the audience leaves the auditorium. The key to having an impressive lecture is to marry content with your own unique style of presentation. And every speaker needs that style, that unique selling point. In coaching as in elsewhere, being funny is serious business.

Get used to criticism

The other thing that being a speaker has taught me is—you cannot make everyone happy! For every five “Thank you” messages that I receive, there is one person who writes to me saying that I am cheap and indecent [not everyone can take humour]. I have learned to look beyond those 500 criticisers towards the 6, 50,000+ believers who have benefited out of my words in some small way. That’s the only gratification I am looking for.

Patience is a virtue

From the outside, the world of motivational speaking may look glamorous. However, the reality, as my fellow speakers would know, is different. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to build credibility. You reap your rewards gradually, not immediately. I took more than 10 years to become slightly known! Recognition comes after years of working on your website, your elite client list, your videos, your images, and your media presence. If the total units of effort in a motivational speaker’s life are 100 then the first 50 units are onerous and uphill, whereas the remaining 50 are zippy and fun. In the last half of this profession’s lifespan people make heroes out of you and celebrate you and this validates the first half of donkey work.

Cons of success

In my experience, these are the two main occupational hazards of being a motivational speaker:

  • You will be literally living out of your suitcase, and after some 15–20 days of travel your family might allow you entry into your own home after showing some proof of identification.
  • You will get so much attention from the opposite gender that, if you fail to practise what you preach or do not handle a situation with grace, you will ruin your reputation and career.

It’s all worth it

Sometimes I forget which city I am waking up in because there is so much stress of travel and daily events during peak work times. However, I don’t have any regrets. In the end, the overall positives of being a motivational speaker outweigh the relatively few negatives. And nothing compares to the joy of realising that I have changed someone’s life with my humour and words. When someone comes up to me and says, “You have changed my life today,” it’s the best feeling ever. Every bone in my body then wants to do more and more of what I have been doing all these years.

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