In 2018 I attended a book launch by the founder of a leading professional speaker agency. As the event began, the host asked members of the audience to briefly introduce themselves. I had not heard of any of them, but everybody was a professional speaker – which meant they all seemingly earned a living by speaking. I had noticed a guy slouching into a chair at the back of the room. Surely that guy, wearing board shorts, a peak cap and flip flops, was the odd one out. I thought he might be the only other person, along with myself, who was not yet a professional speaker.
When it was time for his introduction, he shared how he had survived a terrible sequence of unlikely events while on holiday. His story, and his pitch to the world, stemmed from how he had prevailed. That event changed his life. He gave up his job as the MD of a successful business to follow a more lucrative tour of the world with his story. His closing comment was ‘I am literally set for life’.
His smugness put me off, but the crowds applauded enthusiastically.
After an awkward tea break, dominated by Mr Ego in his beach gear, a gangly man stood up wearing an over-sized jacket. He shared his top five tips for improved self-esteem. There was an endearing tone to his delivery, but for the life of me, I cannot remember what those tips were.
Right there, with the whiff of adulation in the room and 5 unmemorable tips to grow my self-worth, I felt decidedly deflated.
That feeling gave way to ultimate annoyance, and concern.
In so many cases, I observe significant money being spent by individuals and organisations to traipse a speaker before a crowd of people in order to inspire, motivate and enlighten them. They often get raucous applause, akin to entertainers, and people throng around them for a chat, to buy their book or snap a selfie.
That is all fair and well, and there certainly is something very uplifting about listening to a great story which could set the tone for a conference or event. But, how do we make sure that the wisdom and advice results in the changing of lives? Okay, so maybe these events do not need to be life-changing, but surely, they should serve as a catalyst for shifting people’s thinking and behaviour.
This got me thinking. In my observation, we seem to have developed an addiction to more information, more stories and more speakers, and this in turn has spawned an explosion in platforms, podcasts, forums and events.
An esteemed colleague of mine often says that a true measure of what you value is reflected in how you spend your time.
We have filled our eyes and ears with messages from others about how we should tackle our lives. I expect that if it works, our world should be filled with better and more fulfilled people, but I do not see that happening. I may have strayed too far into cynicism to still command your attention, but think about this:
What if all these speakers, all these podcasts and Ted Talks, are being consumed as an elaborate form of avoiding and resisting change?
What if the act of devoting time to all these idea-filling activities is an ineffective method of meaningful transformation?
I am becoming more concerned that we are not doing enough to face ourselves, to listen to our inner-voice and what it is telling us to do, where it is asking us to look and how it is prompting us to face ourselves.
Maybe it is time to dig a little deeper within, define our own five actions towards healthier self-esteem, and then actually commit to following through.
So next time you see the timer round up after a twenty-minute TED talk, or a two-minute LinkedIn vignette, ask yourself:
1. Do I spend more time consuming motivational content than I do reflecting on my core beliefs and drivers of motivation?
2. Am I taking ownership of my process to adopt more productive perceptions and behaviours or am I just enjoying watching others take charge of their lives?
3. Do I really want to make a shift in my life, or is watching or listening to another person just easier to do?
The list of questions I could ask go on and on.