Why Demands Fail to Motivate People

By Lou Solomon

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When trying to motivate people to achieve their best, don't employ fearExactly how do you motivate your audience with a presentation or speech? You’ll find dozens of articles on our website that give you ideas.

Today I want to illustrate how not to do it.

How not to motivate your audience

Years ago, I attended a radio group awards gala for excellence in ratings and revenue. Everyone in that ballroom had already achieved a high bar of performance and made a huge sacrifice just to have been invited to this event.

But the seating chart didn’t say that. The very best performers were seated in front of the room and the lesser best were seated in a graduated order toward the back, according to actual numbers.

My team sat at the back of the room, the last of best.

The lights dimmed and the CEO, we’ll call him Jim, stepped out into the spotlight. “If those of you in the back of the room want to move to the front row,” he said, “you’re about to learn from the REAL champions.” He went on to say “Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow I will ask you to do it again, only better. We are a fast-growing organization, and I won’t concede to anything but fast growth at each of our properties.”

Someone on my team grumbled, “I thought we were all champions,” and another, “Wow, we get to celebrate for one night and then it’s another year of working harder!” and I thought, “Jim, you’re committed to fast growth for the shareholders—what’s the commitment to this team?”

Attempts to control people with fear backfire

Scores of scenes like that one play out every hour at company all-staff meetings, retreats, awards galas, video conferences, and everywhere employees are gathered for a keynote across the globe. Ironically the blowback on attempts to control people with the fear move an organization backward into disengagement and turnover.

The obvious and overlooked alternative?  Stop unloading your own fear and say something real.

Say something authentic, instead of fear-baiting

Authentic communication asks that we open ourselves up to humanness. What if Jim had talked about the giftedness in every individual in the room?  He might have made us all feel included in the celebration.

If he had expressed his deep gratitude, he might have instilled trust.

Instead of making us feel a sense of dread, he might have given us a vote of confidence to lean into our greatness for not only the company, but ourselves and one another.

Instead, he made some of those hard-working people fearful that while they might be good, but not quite good enough.  Mind you, these things would have to have come from the heart.

Here are five points for reflection when you want to motivate your audience

  • Give careful thought to what you can do to bring authentic value to people.
  • Tell a relevant personal story and share what your life has taught you.
  • Let people know you understand and appreciate their contribution (and make sure you do).
  • Activate the best ideas and inspiration within people by giving voice to your own true passion for the future.
  • Articulate a bigger picture and more meaningful purpose than the work alone. 

Next time, say something real.

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