Jobs They Love: Motivational Speaker
Updated: Apr 4
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
Deena Ebbert is one of those extraordinary people who lights up a room with about a million watts of pure sunny energy as soon as she comes through the doors. Immediately, everybody present can feel themselves breaking into irrepressible smiles, reflecting back the surge of positivity she generates. And this is before she even opens her mouth to say hello.
An acclaimed author and change agent, Ebbert is also known as Propellergirl. It’s a perfect alias that describes her style -- a gleeful “parachute-jump” into businesses and organizations around the world to engage employees in thoughtful and fun-filled attitude adjustment sessions.
Deena’s mission? To convince you that you can not only thrive and excel at your job, but you can actually have fun doing it.
The pace and energy level of your work is that of a human whirlwind. Are you always this energetic at home too?
I think when someone loves what they do, they show up looking incredibly alive and engaged…so yeah…whirlwind at work! When I’m working, I am in this place of utter delight and total devotion; one hundred percent in with no distractions. Years ago, I stopped aggressively multi-tasking, because I wasn’t good at it, and started single-tasking. Full-on focus and output, I think, requires massive self-care and mindful restfulness on the flip side. So, while I’m naturally wired to be very energetic, I’ve found that in order to have stamina, I have to be really thoughtful about my downtime. At home I’m pretty chill; I garden, walk, read, cook, get my yoga on. And I love my sleep! When it’s time to rest, I can be equally focused and utterly delighted, but without burning gobs of energy. It’s like anything else…if you’re going to pour it out, you’ve got to fill it back up.
People who’ve participated in your sessions say the experience has really changed their lives. What is the secret ingredient that makes a Propellergirl session different from a typical employee training meeting?
One of the smartest things I’ve ever heard is that participation is the price of admission. The secret ingredient is that we’re collaborating; coming together, being connected, feeling like it’s cool to participate in the way we each choose to participate. Work can be intimidating; we armor up, we want to do it right, we feel the heat of scrutiny. I want people to understand it's actually okay to peel away some of that layer of emotional distance we create in the workplace. To be authentic. I try to keep it terrifically interactive so folks can find their own moment, whether that’s in a quiet self-reflection or a group discussion or a moving conversation. My goal is for each individual to walk away with an idea in their pocket; something they can use to make their life better. That idea is different for every person. That idea is the treasure, the prize. And everyone deserves that.
How did you get into this gig?
Speaking is my second career. My first was in the super fast-paced high-tech world. Fifteen years of upsizings, downsizings, launches, mergers…I joked that going to work was kind of like jumping into a live volcano every day. That’s where I got a reputation for being the person willing to have tough conversations but doing that from a place of love and enthusiasm. And you know people gossip…so word got around about how I’d volunteer to take on the big pile of “everything’s horribly wrong and people are going to be sad and mad and freaked out,” and fix it. I believe it doesn’t matter how broken a process is, if you can gather up people and create common ground, you can fix it. That’s how great cultures are made. From there, I got tapped as a speaker, to breathe life into a brand. And another. And another. Now, 19 years and hundreds of brands later, I’m so grateful I threw my hand in the air. Think about it…what is something that you're doing as a volunteer in your job now that might turn into an interesting new career?
If you had the opportunity to sit down for a private gabfest over coffee (or beer) with anyone in the world, who would you choose?
I think about this question a lot. I’ve met a ton of super-cool people in my life. I would want to sit down with my grandma, over coffee and a piece of pie, and get her perspective on the world today. Because I’m constantly reading and looking and seeing what’s new, and I’ve been reflecting that some of the best lessons are very simple, that old-fashioned learnings still have merit in these newfangled days. There’s a saying: if you want to learn a new thing, read an old book. She extracted so much delight from life, so much laughter. I’d like another dose of that.
When you were in school, were you the brainiac in the front row or the cutup in the back of the classroom?
Brainiac. I was actually the shy person in the second row. I didn’t feel cool enough to sit with the cool kids telling jokes in the back row. And I wasn’t sure I knew all the answers to sit right in the very front. It’s a good vantage point, though, second row. You can see what’s going in in the front and you can hear what’s happening in the back. I did raise my hand. A lot. And I still do. Ask good questions. Take good notes. Participate.