At first glance, the boom in motivational speakers is a harmless,
almost charming, distinctly American phenomenon that reflects our
healthy desire to improve - and our less healthy hunger for the
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with millions of Americans
cramming into auditoriums each year to hear flamboyant speakers
offer pithy, easily digestible formulas for fame, success, and
wealth. No one seems to be injured by this business.
But the motivational-speaking boom is a troubling development. It
undermines integrity, and at least tacitly rewards slickness rather
than substance. It also perpetuates the ethos that quiet competence
and modest achievement are pass, and that self-promotion is the best
way to secure due rewards.
The success of prominent motivational speakers demonstrates that
the most important thing in life is not so much accomplishing
tangible goals, but packaging - and selling - a program that offers
a sure road to success.
"There aren't a lot of people in this business who have actually
accomplished much in the real world," one motivational speaker
confided to me while attending a National Capital Speakers
Association meeting. "It's a lot easier to talk," he added.
I'm convinced the motivational-speaking craze imposes real, if
subtle, costs to our country's values. By example, if not by
specific injunctions, many of these speakers impart values that
corrode our national psyche.
Analysts agree the soaring market for motivational speakers is
generated in large measure by the proliferation of conferences,
seminars, and meetings organized by businesses, trade associations,
universities, and others.
Not surprisingly, scores of entrepreneurs have recognized that
there is plenty of money to be made through motivational speeches
which can then be used to promote books, tapes, CDs, seminars, and
workshops. There is even a cottage industry of people who give
speeches, seminars, and workshops on how to make money giving
speeches, seminars, and workshops.
According to several Washington speakers bureaus, daily fees
range from $1,000 for the moderately successful speaker to $15,000
for the niche celebrity, to more than $100,000 for national
One speaker, Tom Morris, a former philosophy professor at Notre
Dame, doesn't seem to find any limits in response to the fees he
charges. "I keep raising my prices but people still keep calling,
and I don't even do any marketing. I didn't win a war, I didn't win
a national football championship, I'm just a philosopher."
The motivational-speaking industry has grown into a multibillion-
dollar enterprise. Speakers such as Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Zig
Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and Keith Harrell have become millionaires
and built veritable empires dispensing advice. I believe most
participants in this business share culpability for the burgeoning
hot-air charade. …