Motivational Speaking for the Pain Community

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

There are many types of patient advocates. One of my favorite is being a motivational speaker. Sharing my personal story of trials and challenges -- and how I overcame them -- is motivational to me and inspirational to those who have heard me speak at pain conferences.

I often get the comments like: How did you learn to be a motivational speaker? How can I share my story with the world?

Many pain sufferers have compelling stories of over treatment, undertreatment and mistreatment by the medical system, but they are not as focused as they need to be for motivational speaking. I'd like to share a few tips that I’ve learned.

First, you have to create a plan. You have to become the expert of your own story. And you need to develop a goal or outcome that you want your listeners to learn – an “action item” for them when your presentation ends.

After you organize your thoughts and create your presentation plan, figure out how long your talk is going to be. You could be allotted anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to speak. I know I could go on for 8 hours straight on some topics. Do you need to save time for questions? Do you want to allow people to interrupt you during your presentation or after?


Where do you speak? If this is totally new to you, you may want to start at your child’s school for career day. Yes, being disabled and having chronic pain is equivalent to a career. I actually wish some of the parents who were disabled or chronically ill when I was growing up would have come to my school to do a presentation. It helps plant a seed, so that if a child or their family member finds themselves in a similar situation, they can remember the lessons they learned.

Another place to speak is your church or local library. After you speak 10-20 times to smaller groups and develop a focused and polished presentation, you can turn to your local hospitals and pain clinics and see if they need a presentation from the patient’s perspective. There are also online opportunities, such as webinars put on by nonprofits, Facebook or Periscope live sessions that can help you practice and develop your public speaking skills.

As you build experience, you will sharpen your message, get better at understanding your audience, and learn what is best to skim over and what is important to present in full. Having backup material to present is also very helpful.

Be prepared for anything. I once passed out during a speech. Just fell over. How would you handle it? I had them bring me a chair and a water bottle. Now I always go on stage with a water bottle.

Finally, understand that motivational speaking is not for everyone. It takes someone who is organized and willing to share the messy details of their life with actionable goals on how to turn it around. As my friend Judy Carter says, “You can’t have a message without a mess.”

It takes work. I practiced speaking with my dad and husband, tape recording myself to see how many “um's” and “like, you know” I was saying and how to cut them out. The secret is practice and preparation.

The breakdown of steps for me goes like this:

  1. Write down your topic, facts, personal story and the “take away” for listeners
  2. Practice by yourself
  3. Practice in front of someone
  4. Put yourself out to the world as a potential speaker
  5. Stay within your allotted time -- which requires you to be focused and practiced
  6. Allow time for questions at the end. If no one has any, have a recap message ready so you can end on a positive and productive note.

Keep in mind that you are a pain patient and sometimes you have to prepare by resting – both before and after your talk. The endorphins I get when on stage are a pain reliever for me, but when they wear off I hit the bed and need a few days of recovery. Be ready for this to happen to you.

It’s more important than ever for pain sufferers to share their stories. We are poorly understood and often ignored when decisions are made about our healthcare. We need to be our own best advocates – whether it’s testifying at a legislative hearing, participating in a pain support group, or speaking at your child’s school.

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.  

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network