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Break the Motivational Speaker

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A comedy trope, usually found in Work Coms. Morale is down so the Pointy-Haired Boss takes drastic action - he hires someone to come and tell the staff that it'll be okay. Unfortunately, his underlings are so cynical, unpleasant or downright insane that, not only are they uninspired, they also drive the speaker nuts. May involve a Comic Role Play.

Motivational speakers aren't very popular; many offices make attendance of such sessions either mandatory or at least "expected," meaning that many people see them as a waste of time at worst or a break from real work at best, but certainly not something to be taken seriously.

Compare Critical Psychoanalysis Failure.


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  • In Discover Card's Peggy campaign, retired college football coach Lou Holtz tries to motivate Peggy into sending him a replacement card to his hotel quickly without much luck.
  • Played for Laughs in a GEICO ad where Pinocchio is hired as a motivational speaker. Cut to a dismal looking hotel conference room with a bunch of nondescript middle manager types and Pinocchio up on stage. Every time he says anything like motivational like "You have potential!," his nose starts growing.

     Comic Books  


  • In the backstory for The Odd Couple, Felix's marriage counselor threw him out of the office and wrote on his chart "Lunatic!".
  • Appears in Donnie Darko, where the motivational speaker is constantly interrupted, and eventually cut short by Donnie suggesting common sense is better than cliché self-help nonsense for solving people's problems ("Do you want your sister to lose weight? Tell her to get off the couch, stop eating twinkies and maybe go out for field hockey."), eventually telling him "I think you're the fucking Antichrist". Of course, it later turns out Donnie's actions are somewhat justified, as the self-help speaker actually runs a "kiddie porn dungeon".
  • Lady Bird: Lady Bird and her classmates are required to attend a talk by an anti-abortion speaker (it's a Catholic high school) who tells them an "uplifting" story about how her own mother decided not to have an abortion as a pregnant teenager. Lady Bird does not find this convincing and picks a fight with the speaker, resulting in her suspension.


  • In the book Mindfogger, the protagonist creates a device that can "fog" the minds of everyone around it. People are happy and relaxed but unable to get any serious work done. He places the device at the factory he works at and production plummets. The management brings in a motivational speaker and he's unable to function properly.
  • The Cheerful Fairy in the Discworld novel Hogfather arrives to help the wizards, who are grumpy old misanthropes to a man. They do catch on, and having broken her, the wizards feel a bit guilty, and make a (minimal) effort to be cheerful after all. One of them decides to go all-out for a different kind of cheerful, and seduces her. The plot prompts her to vanish right before they got it on.

     Live Action TV  

  • Happened in The Brittas Empire where dealing with Gordon Brittas led a man who gave talks about overcoming his addictions to start swallowing every pill and bottle he could get his hands on and then try to strangle Brittas in a rage.
  • Happened again in The IT Crowd with someone brought in to handle office stress.
  • Frontline has a motivational speaker whose idiot suggestions drive the team mad.
  • Happens on Drop the Dead Donkey. Gus brings in a psychologist for a psychiatric evaluation of the news team. Unfortunately, he's a recovering alcoholic and the various traumas of the team drive him back to the bottle. (DTDD likes its Black Comedy.)
  • Both versions of The Office sort of invert this, with the boss being the one that sabotages the presentation.
    • In the US version, the boss, Michael, takes it upon himself very often to give motivational or informative talks to his employees. One such talk ended in him locking them all in the conference room and refusing to let them out. Another nearly led to him jumping off a building.
  • There's the Chris Farley Saturday Night Live skits about Matt Foley, the motivational speaker that lives in a VAN down by the RIVER! An inverted example, as he shows up broken and stays that way. Usually all that is broken are the other actors' concentrations, any of the breakaway furniture (usually a coffee table), or, in one case, David Spade's head. Whatever works.
  • Andy Richter Controls the Universe— a grief counselor is brought in after a worker's suicide, but when uber-loser Byron's session comes up, his life story is so depressing that the counselor is Driven to Suicide.
  • In Just Shoot Me!, Jack brings in a motivational speaker who used to know Maya in high school. Unfortunately Maya finds out that he was the one who ruined her reputation in high school and angrily denounces him, which causes him to get drunk right before his speech.
  • Handled far, far more literally in Deadly Games, the show about villains from an advanced video game who break into the real world. As the hypnotic, fast-talking Motivational Speaker, Dwight Schultz tried to kill a crowd of New Year's revelers with gas-filled lightbulbs, and could only be destroyed by being made to "eat his words" — on cassette tape.
  • The FOX sitcom Titus had Titus being dragged to a motivational seminar around the time that Titus's hot rod shop shut down and he was depressed. Titus and his friends didn't break the motivational speaker, but Ken did by calling everyone "wussies" and giving them advice such as telling a black woman to marry a white guy and take everything he has in the divorce or a fat man to start smoking to lose weight.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody had one of these for a trust-building seminar. He is mocked by everyone at ever stage and the staff spends more time bickering and making fun of each other than building trust. Eventually he goes Screw This, I'm Outta Here.
  • A variation of this trope can be seen in the Brit Com The Thick of It. Stewart, a PR manager and adviser for one of the political parties, speaks in an infuriating combination of PR slogans and buzzwords that are actually meaningless Ice Cream Koans overlaid with a false Granola Girl-style cheerfulness and enthusiasm. Peter, a minister who detests the entire culture of spin but nonetheless has to deal with Stewart regularly, constantly snarks at him and relishes every opportunity to undermine or humiliate him.
  • In NewsRadio, John Ritter plays a therapist who shows up to help the crew through a particularly cranky time. Dave gets upset that they'll talk to this outsider and feel better, when they wouldn't talk to him; but Ritter ends up on Dave's couch in the end.
  • Frasier coming onto Julia Wilcox, who the station execs are convinced is litigious, leads to the whole staff being forced to attend a sexual harassment seminar. Everyone unites in openly ridiculing the speaker and making a mockery of the exercises he gets them to do, and as soon as he finds out Julia isn't interested in suing, Kenny calls the seminar off mid-session. Still, all-in-all he gets off better than most victims of this trope.
  • An episode of The Smoking Room has the staff forced to attend a smoking cessation workshop, "CigZowt". The representative finds himself unprepared for the staff's snark, general churlishness and short attention spans, and eventually loses his temper with them.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • Crops up a few times in Dilbert.
    • The "motivation fairy" is transformed into the image of Wally, whom she previously thought to be a myth, after attempting to motivate him.
    • In a variation, the PHB introduces a speaker as having been a famous athlete before drugs and alcohol ruined his life. The guy staggers on stage and Alice points out that it's only inspirational when he stops doing those things.

     Video Games  

  • In Planescape: Torment, a speaker in the Civic Festhall is giving a speech about the wonderful worlds that lie beyond death. You can ask him why he hasn't already killed himself already, if the worlds beyond are so good. The speaker responds that he'll happily do so... but only if the player kills himself first. The player, being immortal, can do just that, and upon getting back up, basically say "your turn." The speaker doesn't uphold his end, and is duly mocked by the crowd.

     Web Original  

  • The Bastard Operator from Hell refers to these people as "huggy-feely" types, and considers it his sacred mission to prevent them from wreaking havoc in the office. One of his greatest joys is breaking them little by little, when he doesn't outright kill them.

     Western Animation  
  • Back to the Future: "Dickens of a Christmas" had a variation. Marty tries to get Clara out of prison by using the Yet Another Christmas Carol trick to appeal to the local Tannen's good nature. Unfortunately, none of the miserable things the teen shows him have any effect. Finally Marty, in disgust, admits defeat. (Fortunately, he manages to find another way around the man's stubbornness.)
  • In Hey Arnold!, Mr. Simmons's debut involves him taking over Ms. Slovak. Though he very clearly means well to motivate his students, everyone (and Arnold) decide to drive him nuts because they preferred Ms. Slovak over him. Only when they drive him insane and get a Drill Sergeant Nasty for a teacher do they realize they screwed up and help Mr. Simmons come back to being their first new teacher.
  • Not a motivational speaker per se, but this happens in The Simpsons to "magical nanny" Sherry Bobbins.
  • South Park:
    • In the episode "Tsst!" Eric Cartman breaks the mind of every inspirational nanny from reality TV or otherwise - to the point of one winding up in an insane asylum and eating her own feces. The only person capable of actually taming him is Cesar Milan "The Dog Whisperer", by lieu of treating him like an animal rather than a human.
    • Stan does this in "The Biggest Douche in the Universe" by calling out the trick behind the trick.
  • Not so much hired as, um, happening to be around, The Feline Philosopher (based on the Old Philosopher) on an episode of Garfield and Friends would motivate a defeated weasel to achieve his goal of chicken theft. The regular cast eventually hits upon the idea of sending him Wade, and they have a little talk which leads to the two swapping personalities (temporarily, at least for Wade).
  • An episode of Beavis And Butthead had the boys break a motivational speaker who had been brought in to teach the students good manners. They break him again when he shows up to get the kids to sell candy.
  • Literally, on Metalocalypse. Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Is everybody ready to die? Oddly, the people he's there to motivate actually seem excited to see him, and the reason he dies is because that just tends to happen to people involved with Dethklok.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: In "Be a Team", Nick Army and Joff the Shaolin Monk are brought in to teach K.O., Enid, and Rad to be a team after the stress of a 100-day sale causes the trio to start arguing. But after a series of Trust Building Blunders, Nick and Joff get so frustrated they start fighting each other, and it's up to K.O. to bring the peace back between the two of them.
  • One episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks has an unusual variant in which the speaker (or more accurately, the being running motivational drills for the entire crew) is evil. She's rigged all the drills to make the entire Cerritos crew fail...just to ensure she still has a job (since the higher ups were questioning if they needed her, as larger ships always passed the drills). Luckily, Boimler's perfectionism provides a Spanner in the Works, and he has to stall to buy time while Captain Freeman and Mariner torment the drill runner into passing them (by way of subjecting her to what actually happens when a Starfleet vessel gets into a weird situation, as they realized she had no actual experience in these scenarios). The entire crew is passed with flying colors, and the drill supervisor promptly quits.


Video Example(s):


Ken Owen Relapses

Ken Owen has come to Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre to talk about over coming addiction. Too bad he wasn't prepared for the annoyance of one Gordon Brittas...

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