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Sales - 4 min READ

The Research Behind How to Give a Motivational Sales Speech

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Author photo: Grace Lau

Grace Lau

It’s nearing month end.

Your team might make their number this month, but it’s going to be tight.

It’s time.

Time for you to walk in there and motivate them so hard, they’ll call, email, and hunt down as many prospects as they need to close above the (possibly overambitious) target that’s been set.

You need a motivational sales speech. A really good one.

Good motivational sales speeches can move hundreds, even thousands of people.

If you’ve watched any one of the really famous commencement speeches (and you should because they’re awesome), you might have been awestruck at how well the speakers, well, speak.

They combine stories, their own life experiences, and really well-timed motivational pushes to get a huge room of (usually restless and distracted) young people riled up and excited.

You know the ones. Steve Jobs, Jim Carrey, Ellen Degeneres, Kal Penn. The list is long. (Also, apparently comedians are really good at motivating new grads.)

Technically, they’re all giving motivational sales speeches. The thing they’re selling? Essentially, a good life. Not necessarily “living the good life,” with fancy cars and big houses, but a life in which you’re able to do good. Be a good person.

That’s a harder thing to sell. But these speakers have all done it. How’d they manage that?

Introducing... motivating language theory.

Before we get into how to give a motivational sales speech, we should probably first introduce motivating language theory (MLT).

Thanks to Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield at Texas A&M International University, we have an extensive body of research (over three decades of it!) on motivational language. Their research has since been supported by studies done in other fields by sports psychologists and military historians.

According to the Mayfields, a good pep talk (aka. a motivational sales speech) has a mix of three key elements.

3 elements of motivational speeches
The 3 elements of motivational language theory, courtesy of Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield

Uncertainty-reducing language

This is best described as “giving good instructions,” or when a leader is able to helpfully tell you exactly how to do something.

Empathetic language

A good leader shows concern for their team, whether they’re offering encouragement, praise, or thanks for a job well done. Don’t forget that a team of sales reps is still a team of human beings first.

Meaning-making language

This kind of language takes “giving good instructions” to the next level. Your reps know how to do something—but why is it important?

Talk about your mission. Your purpose. Use stories. Every good motivational sales speech has a component that excites its listeners and drives them to action.

How can you inject that emotional drive into your speech?

How to give a motivational sales speech:

Like good stories, most motivational sales speeches follow a basic structure. Naturally, we’d recommend including the three elements above from the Mayfields. But let’s break it down a little further—with a bonus tip for taking it to the next level.

1. Inspire. A good speech has to be inspiring. To motivate a group of people to action, you need to have some kind of driving force, a vision that they can strive for.

MLK knew how to do it, Oprah is famous for it, and TED-Talk speakers demonstrate it, no matter the subject of their talks. Watch a few YouTube videos and take notes on what you find inspiring about these speakers, then try to incorporate these elements into your speech.

2. Direct. Both the adjective, as in “be direct,” and also the verb, as in “direct them to do what needs to be done.”

Don’t be afraid of confrontation (it’s not always a bad thing), and make sure that above all, you’re clear about the instructions and expectations. Otherwise, you’re doing both your team and yourself a disservice.

3. Reassure and empower. As a leader, your job is to help your team get stuff done. Asserting power and providing direction are two essentials for doing this, but don’t forget about the glue that holds everything together.

Make sure that you’re providing the right amount of encouragement too, so that your team feels that yes, they can. After all, we’re all human. We all have those moments of self-doubt.

This is the perfect opportunity for you to not try to jump in and do it yourself (micromanager alert!), and instead, give them the chance to figure it out and succeed.

**Bonus: Reward. Everybody likes being rewarded for a job well done. Make it into a game and harness that competitive drive that your sales team innately has.

You don’t have to give away a car to the top performer—even symbols of recognition like a trophy or monthly top-performer perks like not having to take sales notes during meetings can work.

Want to know the key to really good motivational sales speeches?

Sure, there’s a basic template for your speech, but the most overlooked ingredient of a good motivational sales speech is also the one that really takes it to the next level: the personal touch.

If you watch the commencement speeches above (Jim Carrey does this particularly well), you’ll notice that the speakers throw in small references—a wink-wink, nudge-nudge—that are specific to the cohort they’re speaking to.

Those little affirmations are what let your listeners know that you’re speaking to them directly, that this a genuine conversation you’re having with them and not some recycled speech you’ve used on other people before.

Now, you have what you need to motivate your sales team and crush your targets. Good luck—you’ve got this.

Need more inspiration? Check out these motivational quotes that’ll give you the boost you need.

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