Do I Need An Inspirational or Motivational Speaker?

8 min read
…and what’s the difference?
The words ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivational’ are often used interchangeably. There are, however, important subtle differences you need to be aware of when selecting a keynote speaker.

Find out when to hire an inspirational or a motivational speaker – or both – to make your event a huge hit.


Inspiration or motivation? Fine-tuning the keynote speaker choice for your event. Click To Tweet

Fine-Tuning the Choice for Event Success

Inspiring and motivating speakers have similar intentions. Both communicate a message to promote positive change. The change they’re seeking to instil is what differentiates them.

Understanding this fundamental difference will help you pinpoint the right choice and sequence of keynote speakers to achieve overall event objectives.

Here’s a summary of key differences between inspirational and motivational speakers:

Changes thoughts & feelingsChanges behaviours & actions
Heightens audience emotionsHeightens audience desire to do something
Is somebody who has triumphed despite the odds being against themIs an industry expert who shares their secrets for success
Visionary leader in many walks of lifeKey thought leader in a specific field
The topic is often universal and not just about the audience’ specific workplace or interestsSubject matter is more specific and relevant to the audience workplace or interests

How Different?
It’s important to note that a speaker can be both inspiring and motivating, and there are no hard and fast rules about when the two cross actually over. This guide is to help you make the right decisions when looking for keynote speakers.

Which Comes First: The Inspiring Chicken or the Motivational Egg?

Good question, and I’m glad you asked.

In many cases, inspiration comes first. You can imagine a sales rep having a big, internal groundswell of positive thoughts about being successful at sales.

They’re feeling inspired to excel in a broader sense. Motivation is what drives them to specific actions – pursuing that extra 3 sales calls per day – to accomplish a defined goal arises from the inspiration to excel.

It can also happen the other way around. While it may sound like a Buddhist monk trying to wrap a riddle inside an enigma, inspiration also exists inside motivation.

In other words, motivation and action can fuel renewed inspiration, and so forth.

The Flow of Inspiration and Motivation

Another explanation is that inspiration leads to motivation which leads to action.

It can be an ebbing and flowing, circular process.

Click the infographic above for an immersive experience.

The action of doing something can lead to being inspired. Let’s say you need to write a book. You don’t know where to start, but you bravely decide to dive into the deep end and start writing. Once you have the first few words down it’s possible that inspiration grips you strongly to become motivated to continue.

There are no hard and fast rules for when action or inspiration or motivation begin. When it comes to choosing event speakers, we need to assess the flow of event sessions and what each is intending to achieve.

Which Speaker Should I Use?

In reality, there’s no black and white, 100% inspirational or 100% motivational speaker.

Humans are humans with many shades of grey. Being inspirational isn’t mutually exclusive to being motivational, and vice versa.

Likewise, a keynote motivational or inspirational speaker has varying degrees of inspiration and motivation both wrapped up inside their message.

There’s no black-and-white, 100% inspirational or 100% motivational speaker. When to use one or the other - or both. Click To Tweet

Moving from the theoretical to the practical, let’s explore how it applies to choosing the right speakers. You’ll need to determine the balance of inspiration and motivation each speaker needs to deliver. Your decision should take into account the overall event goals, individual session goals and audience tastes.

Law Firm ConferencePromote best practice and productivity for entire firm.Productivity in negotiations.32-48yo, mixed male and female, bright, tertiary educated, highly ambitious.Motivational industry expert who shares tips on accelerating merger/acquisition process.
International Medical SymposiumProfessional development for members.Debate pros and cons of new treatment options.35-60 yo mixed male/female, conservative medical consultants and researchers.Inspiring panel facilitator – provokes the panel audience with challenging questions.
Pharmaceutical Sales Cycle MeetingIncrease sales for next quarter.Inspire sales staff to push through challenges, and get ‘revved’ to achieve more every day.25-45 yo, mixed male/female, energetic, extroverted.Inspiring speaker who reached the top of Mt Everest despite leaving behind sherpa and walking party due to altitude sickness, then Motivational speaker who shares tips for overcoming rejection in sales calls and went on to be No. 1 sales person

First Inspire, Then Motivate

The ideal scenario is one speaker to prime the audience with a good dose of inspiration, followed by another to promote specific behavioural change. A speaker to tap into the hearts, then another to tap into the minds.

First, inspire with a speaker who taps into deeper emotional states:

  • Be kind to others
  • Be brave
  • Be courageous
  • Be more resilient
  • Be more persistent

Second, now that your audience is feeling inspired, the next speaker’s role is to motivate your audience to act in a specific way:

  • Use a new coaching methodology to lead employees
  • Harness the benefits of a new medical treatment
  • Ask a new set of questions to understand the needs of sales prospects
  • Refine a new approach to negotiating corporate deals

Do I need an inspirational or motivational speaker? Inspire to tap into the hearts, then motivate to tap into the minds. Click To Tweet

If Budget Doesn’t Permit, Get Creative and Do Both

Of course, event scope and budget doesn’t always permit for the ideal flow of inspiration through to motivation. Hello, creative event manager: you!

Let’s say you’re running a conference session for the Australian arm of a multinational company undergoing a merger process. You’ve been briefed to create a session that helps support employees through the process of uncertainty and change.

The event schedule and budget are tight so you can only hire one speaker. You’ve decided the approximate ratio of inspiration (changing thoughts) to motivation (driving specific action) is 70:30.

Inspirational objectives
  • Boost employees’ spirits
  • Encourage people to reframe how they think about change
  • Promote resilience in the face of adversity

Motivational objectives
  • Specific act
  • Demonstrate that everybody plays a part
  • Case studies highlighting change that’s achievable for any team

In this scenario, you’d look for a speaker to share their own inspiring story of pushing through challenging times, showing how they searched within to find strength and persistence. The speaker would also be one to segue to tips for staying open in the context of workplace upheaval, and staying focused on the game plan.

Hot Talent Tip

Justin Jones is an excellent candidate in this example. ‘Jonesy’ is known for pushing human boundaries on multiple large-scale expeditions. He has shared his inspiring story with ASX200 companies, business leaders and professional sporting teams, to become one of Australia’s leading inspirational speakers.

Fine-Tuning the Choice of Keynote Speakers Takes Your Event to the Next Level

At first glance, delving into the difference between inspirational and motivational might seem like splitting hairs. When it comes to choosing the best keynote speakers for specific event sessions and audiences, however, there are important differences. Noting what these are, and aligning your speaker’s inspirational or motivational bent with event objectives, will take your event from pretty good to absolutely brilliant.

Fine-tuning the choice of keynote speakers takes your event to the next level. Click To Tweet

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About the Author

Gav George

When his school music teacher loaned him a cassette tape (yes, he's that old) of a fusion band, Gav entered the jazz world after years of classical music training. He was lucky enough to play with some of the greatest living jazz musicians and toured key festivals. Then Enhance founder Alison Clarke called on Gav to work on the company's marketing. This led him to his new passion of… marketing! Gav oversees Enhance's marketing initiatives, gets a kick out of connecting with clients and unearthing new talent. Gav still has that cassette tape, so if his music teacher reads this, please get in touch so he can return it.

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