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13 Secrets the Best Motivational Speakers Know

Experts agree: Whether speaking to a few coworkers or an auditorium of hundreds, these few simple secrets from motivational speakers will make or break you.

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truth_motivational speakersl i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

The key to a good speech is to have a surprising truth

Find something that everyone thinks is one way, and explain that really it’s this other way. If you can achieve that, you’ve hit a home run. Here are some simple phrases that will help you improve your public speaking skills.

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silence_motivational speakersMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Silence is deafening

Most people think the way to add emphasis is to raise your voice. But if you really want to attract attention, be silent for a moment. I always pause before I say something important, and all the heads that were looking down jerk up.

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about you_motivational speakersRoman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

Don’t make it about you

Here’s the key to good networking: Think about what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. When you meet new people, don’t make the mistake of marketing yourself. Instead, think about someone you know who would be helpful to them. Connect two people, and suddenly you’re a hero. Here are some simple voice tricks that will help you speak confidently and gain respect.

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headphones_motivational speakersOlena Hromova/Shutterstock

Delivery matters

When I have an important speech, I record it and listen to it repeatedly so there will be no mistakes whatsoever. Here are some more essential tricks that will make you more articulate.

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unexpected_motivational speakerscreativetan/Shutterstock

Don’t let the unexpected stop you

Last spring, I was giving a speech in a multiplex theater, and the power died. It could have been terrible, but it was great. First one person turned on his phone’s flashlight to light me up. Then everyone did. And I just kept going.

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research_motivational speakersSamuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock

Educate yourself

Never before have we had more power to educate ourselves. If you give a smartphone to a Masai warrior in Africa who’s never seen technology, he will have access to more information than the president of the United States did in the year 2000. That’s a stunning statistic; take advantage of it.

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Want to get noticed?

I built my career by soliciting exotic international gigs where I had credibility because I was an American from Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, I got credibility at home because I was speaking internationally. That one trick made me an established keynote speaker. Here’s how colleges get big-name speakers to deliver speeches.

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Smaller audiences are murder…

…because people lose focus. The sweet spot is any group of about 150 to 200 people; that size allows you to establish a collective crowd reaction.

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brainstorm_motivational speakersIancu Cristian/Shutterstock

Get your juices flowing

Stuck in a creative rut? Try this: Look to your left and focus on whatever random object is there; then think about how your life or your problem is like that object. It’s a simple exercise, but it can help get your creative juices flowing. Here are some more simple ways to boost your creativity.

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pick victim_motivational speakersMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Pick a victim

Often I’ll pick out a person in the crowd who has a big sourpuss expression, and I’ll make it my mission to make that person laugh. If I can do that by the end of my speech, then that’s success for me. These are the funniest lines ever from celebrity commencement speeches.

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start from scratch_motivational speakersJacob Lund/Shutterstock

Be prepared to start from scratch

You have no idea what they do to us backstage. One time I had a keynote speech that was cut from half an hour of talking time to seven minutes because the speakers in front of me were going on too long. So I ripped up the speech I had, wrote a few notes, and winged it.

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see you_motivational speakersMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

When I’m speaking, I can see you (really)

If you’re texting, I know. If you’ve got buds in your ears, I know. Usually I let it go. But if you’re distracting the people around you, I may have to call you out. Learn the skills all good listeners must have.

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The best speakers don’t always command the highest fees

Case in point: Rutgers paid Jersey Shore reality TV star Snooki $32,000 in 2011 for two Q&A sessions. That was $2,000 more than it paid Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison to deliver a commencement address.

Sources: Motivational speakers James Marshall Reilly, founder of the Guild Agency; Patrick Schwerdtfeger; Ian Tyson; Kinja Dixon; Gayle Carson; and Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest