Motivational Speakers vs Inspirational Speakers

I recently came across the website of one of the top motivational speakers in South Africa. He had a page describing the difference between a motivational speaker and an inspirational speaker. I was surprised by his explanation. In fact, it seemed the opposite to what I had learnt in previous meetings of the Professional Speakers’ Association. It made me consider why I chose to describe myself as an inspirational speaker and sparked an interesting conversation on my Facebook page. Is there really a difference?

The definitions of “motivation” and “inspiration” in the Oxford dictionary do not make the differences between the two clear:

Motivation: a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm

Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative: a sudden brilliant or timely idea

Motivational SpeakersThis particular motivational speaker described the difference as the following:

“Motivational speakers not only engage the audience while sharing best practices, but also draw on life experiences and lessons ensuring the audience is kept entertained. The difference between an inspirational speaker and a motivational speaker is sometimes quite subtle. Where an inspirational speaker uses examples to underline the possibilities of overcoming extreme everyday obstacles as a way of motivating the audience, a motivational speaker draws from own experiences to back up the notion that nothing is impossible if one applies their mind in a constructive manner devoid of conditioning.The difference is notable and the message carries a lot more weight when coming directly from the person that has achieved what many would say was impossible.”

What I do agree with is that the difference is subtle. I do not agree that motivational speakers exclusively use their own experiences whereas an inspirational speaker uses examples of others. If that were the case, I better redefine my role as a keynote speaker! I certainly agree that a message is far more credible coming directly from the person sharing his/her story.

Steve Lowell, an international speaker and mentor to professional speakers based in Canada, brought up an interesting idea on my Facebook page:

“Problem is that the two terms are defined so subjectively. I don’t think the difference between the two speakers lies in the process at all, but in the effect on the audience. Some speakers inspire just based on who they are. It’s such a subjective thing. A speaker reaches each audience member differently…who is to say if that speaker is a “motivational” speaker or an “inspirational” speaker?…I think each individual audience member is the authority on that baed on how they have been affected.”

Whatever the difference, motivational speakers and inspirational speakers share stories, knowledge and life lessons to encourage positive change. We ultimately aim for our message to continue beyond the conference or event, to spur the audience to action. As my slogan reads for my non-profit, Nicky’s Drive:


I hope that I do all three each time I am privileged to take the stage.


2 thoughts on “Motivational Speakers vs Inspirational Speakers

  1. Definitely food for thought. To say that an Inspirational Speaker doesn’t share from personal experience is a very narrow view….how to you motivate or inspire if you can’t or don’t share your own stories. I hope I do more than just talk processes when I speak to people….

  2. Yes, Carol – so true!

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