Business Q & A

5 questions with Les Brown

Motivational speaker Les Brown
Motivational speaker Les Brown Courtesy photo

Les Brown may not know you, but he knows you have greatness in you.

Brown, 71, an internationally known motivational speaker, has been trying to bring out people’s greatness for decades. He will speak in Wichita as part of Get Motivated, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre. (Learn more at

Born on the floor of an abandoned building in Miami’s Liberty City, Brown said he was raised by an adoptive mother who forced him to keep striving, despite the poor-student label stuck on him by teachers and classmates.

His determination, he said, pushed him to rise from sanitation worker to broadcast station manager, political commentator, state representative in Ohio and, later, motivational speaker.

Q. How do you become a motivational speaker?

A. You find a topic that you are passionate about and have some success at and provide that to an audience in a way that allows them to learn from your experience.

Q. That sounds dry. Don’t you have to get them fired up?

A. In my particular case, I’ve spent years going to seminars and workshops and delving through the experiences of my own life to extract a message that people can relate to.

Q. What’s the biggest barrier for people to find greatness?

A. The feeling that you are not good enough. That was my barrier. I was declared “educable mentally retarded,” moved back from the fifth to the fourth grade and held back in the eighth grade. It affected my view of myself.

Q. How do you make the motivation last longer than a night?

A. For some people, it will last one night, and for some, it will last a lifetime. We can’t measure or determine what is absorbed by them. That is up to the individual.

You have to think: These folks, their opinion of me doesn’t have to be my reality. Because I believe that, I have been able to accomplish a great deal.

Q. When you’re feeling tired, how do you get motivated?

A. One of things I tell people is you have to believe in things people tell you until your own belief kicks in. I didn’t believe for 14 years until it finally kicked in.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis