To some extent, everyone who takes the stage in front of a room full of people and speaks to them is a leadership speaker. Maybe they’re informing their audience of employees about a new safety regulation, or maybe they’re sharing a highly unusual personal experience, but for a few moments, they have the attention of their audience and are by default leaders of a sort.

While every speaker should “lead” to some extent, great leadership speakers know how to take their influence on stage to a higher level.

Leadership speakers as we normally think of them go beyond simply taking the stage to impart information. People in the audience feel like they have been affected in some lasting way after having heard a powerful leadership speech. It is not an exaggeration to say that an amazing leadership speaker can change the world, even if it is the sentiment rather than the exact words that carry on after the speech is over.

In 1883 in Buffalo, future president Theodore Roosevelt told his audience, “The first duty of an American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner; and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honor and justice.” Are those words any less applicable today than they were over 130 years ago?

In 2013, at the young age of 16, schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, after having been shot in the head by a Taliban assassin for attending school, told the United Nations, “They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people’s heads just for going to school.” In a single sentence, this young woman encapsulated the decades of hatred that fueled the religious extremists who ruled her home with an iron fist.

Though radically different from one another, Roosevelt and Yousafzai more than fulfilled the duties of an effective leadership speaker.

Who Are Leadership Speakers?

True leadership speakers combine passion with experience, and there is no way to predict who will become one. Whatever their age or background, the most effective leadership speakers infuse a room with energy. They speak frankly about obstacles and barriers they have faced, and they emphasize how they moved forward regardless.

Outstanding leadership speaking comes from the right combination of passion and experience.

Leadership speakers may be polished, like the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or they may be gritty, like the character Blake in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross when he delivers the famous “Always Be Closing” speech. They may be controversial, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who refused to support passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as long as women were denied the right to vote. Or they may be almost universally beloved, like the late Fred Rogers in testifying before Congress in 1969 in support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The one thing that great leadership speakers have in common, regardless of their other differences, is passion about a subject. And you may be surprised by how much passion the right person may bring to a topic that many people find mundane. Sally Rubenstone, who spent 15 years reading application essays at Smith College, says that some of the most memorable application essays she read were on the most mundane topics, like laundry mishaps or playing in hopelessly inept school bands. As with speeches, it was the people behind these topics and their passion that kept their audience spellbound.

Who Needs to Hear Leadership Speakers?

It could be argued that everyone, at some time or another, can benefit from hearing a powerful leadership speaker. We like to be inspired, and most of us like being surprised by who can inspire us. Why are we so moved when a barefoot Ethiopian wins an Olympic marathon, or when a random young man who had only recently moved to town takes charge of an emergency shelter during a hurricane? We’re moved because these are people who appear to be ordinary people like us, and yet they accomplish amazing things, sometimes having been thrust into their role with little warning.

We all need to be inspired now and then by people who have reached their goals.

The very word “inspiration” implies life-giving breath, writ large. The word comes from the late Latin “inspirationem,” which is formed from the stem word “inspirare,” which literally means “blow into, breathe upon.” Figuratively, the word implies excitement and giving of life force. Inspiration can be short term, helping us get over a hurdle that’s holding us back, or it may be long term, motivating us to make ourselves and our world better.

Leadership speakers may address either or both of these needs, depending on context. They may prompt us to “dig in, and make this holiday season the most successful ever,” or they may shape our thinking more subtly, inspiring us to make our organization more environmentally sustainable over the next decade.

An effective leadership speech should inspire audience members to do or feel something different right now, and to refine longer-term actions as well.

Just as we need clean, fresh air to energize our bodies, we periodically need clean, fresh inspiration to energize our spirits. And the need isn’t confined to a single state of being. We need inspiration when we hit rock bottom, but we also need inspiration when we’re in the midst of an ordinary day, or enjoying success. And those called upon to lead especially need regular inspiration to avoid burning out.

How Does One Become a Leadership Speaker?

Leadership speakers are special because not everyone can be one. But that’s not to say that a person has to fulfill a checklist of personal, educational, and professional accomplishments before being “qualified” as a leadership speaker. An interview with the late Kurt Vonnegut offers advice that works as well with speakers as it does with writers: “I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far.” Writing isn’t so much about unimpeachable grammar so much as it is about the content. Likewise, leadership speaking isn’t so much about perfect elocution as it is about what is said and how.

But becoming a leadership speaker, like becoming a writer, requires that first you learn how to do it. If you don’t have much experience speaking in public, there are numerous online resources that can help you learn. Toastmasters International has clubs all over the world, and they give members plenty of actual practice in public speaking as well as constructive feedback and encouragement.

Succeeding as a leadership speaker requires that a person be authentic. A speaker who rehearses and masters the speech they think everyone wants to hear ultimately rings hollow. People love to vicariously experience who another person is, and there is only one of you, so why “be” anyone else? Your leadership speech is the speech that only you can deliver.

The most effective leadership speakers deliver the content that only they can deliver.

On a more practical level, you have to practice public speaking, in public. Doing so at every opportunity is how you develop your own voice as a leadership speaker. Learning to read an audience and engage with them isn’t something that people can tell you how to do. You have to experience it for yourself. When you build a solid reputation for yourself, there are any number of public speakers’ bureaus you can apply to, so you can gain additional speaking experience.

What Makes John Mattone Unique as a Leadership Speaker?

What makes John Mattone unique as a leadership speaker is his one-of-a-kind background as a thought leader, a business coach, an author, and someone who is passionate about business, leadership, and corporate culture. He is the ideal leadership speaker on the subjects of:

  • Unlocking leadership potential
  • Reinventing organizational culture
  • Optimizing organizational use of talent
  • Identifying and developing high-potential leaders
  • World-class HR leadership

But it isn’t just experience that drives John Mattone’s leadership speeches. He has also put in the research and scholarship necessary to back up what he says with solid data. His goal is no less than to prepare organizations, their leaders, and their future leaders to face important challenges while continuing to thrive and evolve.

What Should Organizations Expect from a Leadership Speaker?

Hiring a leadership speaker is an investment, and naturally, organizations want to feel that they invested wisely. While some employees or organization members will look forward to learning new things and being inspired, others will fear being bored, or see the opportunity as little more than having an hour or so “off work.”

Organizations should expect their leadership speakers to be both personable and relatable, even if they come from a significantly different background from the people in the audience. Organizers should expect to hear an important message from their speaker, not just the random thoughts of someone who happened to win an award, or attain some other achievement.

Leadership speakers should do far more than recount what they have done. They should use their speaking opportunity to share what they have learned. Everyone in the audience wants to know what is in it for them, and by sharing real, relatable lessons learned, speakers are likelier to communicate what’s in it for the audience members while keeping them enraptured.

Through their speaking, audience members should see something of themselves in their leadership speaker.

In some cases, leadership speakers are chosen specifically for practical lessons they can offer to the people in your industry. Someone who has a long track record, and who has plied their trade admirably for decades has probably “seen it all,” and should have a valuable store of practical wisdom to share with your group.

Organizations should expect professionalism and preparation from their speaker. The speaker should let them know before any contract is signed what types of equipment they will bring, and what equipment they will need. You will need to work out how long before the actual speech they will need to arrive, and how long they are expected to remain afterwards. Organizations that take the time to work the details, like how long the speech will be, and whether or not that time includes a question-and-answer session are the ones that will gain the most from an experienced leadership speaker.

What Should Organizations Not Expect from a Leadership Speaker?

Organizations should not have unrealistic expectations from a leadership speaker. Inspiration is vital, but inspiration alone cannot turn around an organization in crisis. A leadership speaker can certainly be part of an overarching strategy to turn around an organization that is in trouble, but organizational leadership should not expect even the most rousing speech to fix morale and purify toxic organizational cultures.

Even the most accomplished leadership speaker can’t be expected to fix a toxic organizational environment.

Organizations should not expect the best results if they are unable to provide the venue and infrastructure a leadership speaker needs. Most leadership speakers are highly adaptable or they wouldn’t have gained the success they have. But if they are not able to use the tools they are used to, you can’t expect their best speech. Organizations should also not expect leadership speakers to go significantly outside what their agreement specifies. Again, most are flexible enough to adapt their speeches to the audience, but expecting a speaker to stay for another event when that was never discussed isn’t realistic.

What Are Some Different Types of Leadership Speakers?

Leadership speakers can be difficult to categorize, because their stories are so varied and unique. But there are speakers who bring certain intangible elements to the stage, and you can (and should) find out what they are when you research possible leadership speakers in advance of your event. Here are a few examples of broad types of leadership speakers.

Speakers with a Hero’s Journey to Share

Some people have simply lived through extraordinary circumstances and inspire others by sharing their stories. Imagine being able to hear firsthand the story of Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, who convinced the Gestapo to release her prisoner husband from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944! Not every “Hero’s Journey” is as epic as Lefaucheux’s, but there are leadership speakers who inspire by offering living proof that ordinary people can sometimes rise to an occasion they never thought they’d face, and do things they never thought they could.

Speakers Who Want to Inform

Leadership speakers who want to inform their audience range from the scientist giving a technical presentation at a highly specialized conference, to a tech leader talking about their latest product offering. But informing audiences doesn’t have to be about making sales or boosting one’s own professional reputation. A speaker discussing a new technology that will change people’s lives inspires by sharing possibilities and encouraging people to reach further in their own personal and professional lives.

Speakers Who Want to Teach 

Some leadership speakers want to teach their audience. Many TED Talks fall into this category. These leadership speakers may teach people how to genuinely become more productive, how to collaborate effectively, or how to optimally schedule a business or product launch. Other surprisingly effective leadership speakers want to teach something less glamorous, but equally important, like how and when to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to potentially save lives.

Speakers Who Want to Persuade

Persuasion and oratory have gone together since ancient times, and speeches to persuade or inspire people to action are as popular now as they ever were. In 342 BCE, Demosthenes used leadership speaking to persuade his fellow Athenians to arms against Philip II of Macedon’s incursions on the Greek peninsula. During the American Revolution, Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech persuaded fellow Virginians to ban the Stamp Act of 1764. Such speeches can be rousing and excellent for overcoming apathy.

The power of speech to persuade has been utilized since ancient times.

Speakers Who Want to Entertain

Who says entertainment isn’t motivating? While a leadership speaker seeking to entertain is a bit outside the mainstream, outstanding entertainment can be highly motivational in itself. Suppose your team has worked hard and landed a major new contract. Clearly, they know how to pull together and get things done. What’s wrong with allowing them to ride the wave of accomplishment by enjoying a performance by an outstandingly gifted entertainer?

Leadership speakers, contrary to many people’s belief, do not come from “central casting” and deliver platitudes to make their audience feel good and then collect their paycheck. Search and you can find leadership speakers from just about every background, of all ages, and with an astounding range of personal experiences.

Before choosing a motivational speaker, know the reason you want to hire one. What do you want the leadership speech to accomplish? Are you interested in informing or teaching your crew something new? Do you want to persuade them to action? Or do you want them to appreciate the power of the individual who has to rise to extraordinary challenges? Do your research on any leadership speakers you consider, and get to know more about them as people and professionals. They’re not interchangeable, and the right speaker for today may not be the right speaker for one year from now. But with the right leadership speaker, you can expect your team to metaphorically “breathe in” the inspiration they deliver, and to become more effective individuals and professionals for having done so.


Authenticity – the quality of being genuine rather than copied or false

Hero’s journey – a cultural tale that generally includes a call to action, tribulations, and ultimate victory

Inspiration – the quality of being stimulated mentally or spiritually to feel a certain way or to accomplish something

Leadership speaker – a professional who speaks to groups of many different types, sharing information and experiences, with the goal of inspiring the audience in some way

Morale – a state of confident readiness and discipline to tackle a task or move toward a vision

Persuasion – the action of encouraging, convincing, or inducing others to believe or do something

Relatability – a quality of being told, or being connected to some common experience. Relatability allows people to see themselves in others’ lives or work.

Speech content – the “meat” of a leadership speech. This is what audiences grab onto and take away with them once a speech is over.

Voice – all the factors that make up the individual style of a speaker, including their syntax, diction, and pace. It is what makes each effective leadership speaker unique.

Back to blog