How to Give a Motivational “Locker Room” Speech

The band had traveled 13 hours on 14 buses for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now slime was falling from the sky. The 500 piece band had planned to hold their final rehearsal on the fields of Newark airport. Now they were stuffed into the Marriott ballroom. It was raining, sleeting and blowing on their parade. David Starnes, the band’s director, stood on the makeshift podium– a pile of chairs– on the far edge of the ballroom and said,

“I know this is not ideal, but sometimes you have to make chicken salad.  All eyes on me.”

As I experienced his leadership, “eyes” had little to do with it. Between songs and sets he wove in one of the best motivational locker room speeches I’ve ever heard.

How to Give a Motivational Pre-Game Speech

David Starnes on leadership (with admiration and apologies for paraphrasing).

1. Visualize Game Day

He set the scene with great detail. “Matt Lauer has just introduced us. The whistle blows. Ready stance. And we begin the NBC sequence (nice touch to call it so).” It was enough to make me want to stand at attention, and I was just there taking pictures.

2. Inspire Perfection

“I heard one early entrance and one delayed cut-off. We don’t want to be watching the tape at the banquet tomorrow night wondering– who was that?” Who would want to be “that guy?” I’m not sure if he really heard two lone stragglers or not, but the sentiment was brilliant. Everyone needed to be on their A game. No one could afford to get lost in the cacophony.

3. Invite Improvement

“Woodwinds, what ONE THING can you do tomorrow that would make your performance just a little bit better?” If I were leading he trumpet section you can bet your dingles, I’m asking that question too. Leaders inspire leaders.

4. Make it Personal

“I want this to be so awesome that Cynthia Jenkins (name changed) can’t speak because she’s so choked up.” When I asked my son who Cynthia was (assuming it was a long-time Dean dying of cancer or some such story) he shared, “Nope, just a clarinet section leader.” Everyone of these 500 music makers matters.

5. Express Pride

“I am so proud of you. You’ve got this. All those hours of practice have come down to this and you are ready.”

They nailed it. 

Posted in Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. I like the way he improvised with the make shift podium. He showed he was vulnerable and a true leader.

    Words I find inspiring are in the form of a question. When a leader asks questions of the team, they go deep inside to find meaningful answers. It’s personal.

    • Steve, I’m totally with you. Questions are the best. Hope your Thanksgiving was great.

  2. What a momentous experience for the band!

    I love the inspirational speech the band director gave, especially the chicken salad metaphor. Sometimes all teams need are their leader’s words of confidence in their abilities to perform in tough situations.

    Thanks for sharing this exciting adventure!

  3. Love this list, Karin!

    People often undervalue the importance of visualization when it comes to their success. Visualizing the day, the situation, and how you will succeed tricks the brain into believing it…

    …the brain is very smart, however. It knows the difference between visualizing and fantasizing. It recognizes what you are capable of doing, and will actually help you get there 🙂

    • LaRae, Amen. So agree… visualizing can make all the difference in the world.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Karin! I think what really strikes me is “invite improvement.” I’ve seen many people back off and say something like “you’ve done all you can…” which I’m sure was true for Ben and his bandmates. However, inviting each person to look within and find even a small place to raise their own bar is truly inspirational. It’s not coming from the leader, but from within.

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