Get Motivated!

       The motivation seminar advertised above came to our town recently, and, having attended a previous session a few years ago, I decided I wanted to attend again. Although I am now retired and hopelessly out of work (and enjoying it), I was anxious to see how the Power People had progressed in the years since I last visited them. If you have never been to a “motivational seminar,” it is a mixture of exceptionally useful information concerning leadership, salesmanship, motivation, goal setting, business skills, and finances blended with homilies concerning patriotism, religion, and family delivered by speakers possessing the dedication and passion of a Pentecostal preacher. In other words, it’s really entertaining. The speakers, as in this case, are usually the tops in their particular fields and with their wealth of acumen and experience demand a certain amount of respect and admiration and serve as suitable role models for us commoners who aspire to greatness. These people are the movers and shakers in their professions and have left an indelible mark on the fabric of the nation…and some continue to do so. These people also tend to be fairly conservative and Republican, since the bottom line of just about every message is that you can make it with perseverance, hard work, and God’s help. That message pretty well excludes any middle of the road to liberal Democrats serving as motivation speakers, because the concept of individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps conflicts with their philosophy of putting anyone who needs help on the government dole.
     Two of the speakers were gentlemen whom I had heard before: General Colin Powell and Mr. Zig Ziglar. Others were notable, but having never heard them in person, I wanted to get my own reaction to their message, primarily Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin. So, bright and early on a cool Monday morning, I left home and headed to the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. As usual, I wanted to get there early, so I left home about , arriving at the Toyota Center parking garage about 45 minutes later. I realized my expenses for the day were just beginning when I had to pay $20.00 to park my car. But park it I did, and entered the center about 35 minutes before the service was to begin. I was in the “Premier” seating area as compared to the “Executive” seating area, both of which were not to be confused with the “Exclusive” seating area down in front of the stage. If it had been a football stadium, I could say I was in the end zone, but it actually was good, because when Sarah Palin used a podium, she faced us, and she wasn’t too far away to make it distracting. Getting a cup of coffee (small) for $3.00, I made my way to my seat.
     At the lights dimmed and a young guy came on the stage and sang a really beautiful Star Spangled Banner, followed by our master of ceremonies for the day welcoming us. The Toyota Center was absolutely packed, and I hear there were overflow attendees at the Reliant Center and even a nearby church. I would guess the Toyota Center seats 8,000-10,000 people, so one can say without too much controversy that the turnout for this gig was good. The master of ceremonies was the type you would expect at a seminar for business people, a young, blond (dark roots) photogenic lady with a dazzling smile who could probably sell icemakers to Eskimos. With a gush of praise and introduction, she brought to us the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
     When Palin appeared and walked onto the platform, the place went wild. I wanted to see and hear Sarah Palin in person because whether you like her or not, she is going to make an impact of American politics for at least a while into the future. Ridiculed and judged by the liberal media as a political lightweight, I wanted to get a feel for her commitment. This was her very first speech given in the venue of a motivational seminar, and it was obvious she was a little nervous. Stylishly dressed in a red double breasted jacket, black skirt and high heels (probably left over from the presidential campaign,) she was the only one of all the speakers who spoke from a podium and used notes. She spoke with the peculiar speech pattern that is apparently very Alaskan in nature, very similar to a Yankee from Minnesota (sorry.) It wasn’t irritating; it just doesn’t soothe a southerner’s ears. Her message was pretty generic…put family first and be inspired. She mentioned husband Todd and children and used Bible inferences to illustrate points, such as the story of Esther. Her most quotable quote was, “You have to do today what others won’t, so that you can do tomorrow what others can’t.” She endeared herself to us Texans when she said Alaskans considered Texas their “little sister state.” All in all, it was a rather tame Sarah Palin we heard without a single political stab at anyone.
     The next speaker was Rick Belluzzo, former President of Microsoft and previous to that a 23 year veteran of Hewlett Packard. He spoke of the tremendous challenges and opportunities of the information age. He did not get the excited response of Sarah Palin, but his message was much more substantive.
     The third speaker was a fellow named Krish Dahnam. Born into poverty in Southern India, he immigrated to the United States and achieved the American dream. He was probably the most powerful speaker of the day and could step into many church pulpits and preach a fine sermon. Openly and proudly Christian, he invited us to repeat a prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ asking for divine guidance and leadership in our lives. Besides that, he had a sharp wit that made you laugh while it pounded home his points. He had two quotable quotes: (1) “Political correctness will be the death of this country.” (Big applause) (2) “At the end of your life, will you say, ‘I wish I had…or… I’m glad I did…?’” I would pay to hear this guy again.
     The fourth speaker wasn’t on the advertised list of speakers, either. Phil Town is a best selling author of a book advertised as “demystifying the stock market.” All I can tell you is that this guy talked fast and solid for 50 minutes about the stock market, and I sat there wishing I understood half of what he said. He made it sound so easy to make money on the stock market in the worst of times. He was the first speaker to be there for a reason, however, besides motivating us. He was also selling his own stock market training course. His course is a several day event coming up soon in Houston. Selling for nearly $3,000, he offered the course to attendees of our motivational seminar for…$99.00! When he told interested attendees to sign up in the hall, I am not exaggerating when I say that nearly half of the audience stampeded for the exits. I don’t know, but it seems to me that the sticker price of $3,000 might be inflated just a bit. Since he has a web site, I think I’ll check it out first. But I will admit the stock tracking program he has developed is pretty impressive. He had five volunteers from the audience use his program to follow an example stock shown on the large screens. Over a six month charted period in which there were highs and lows, the volunteers had to choose when to buy and when to sell. Using his program, in a period of overall stock market down turn, they more than doubled their investment. Thought-provoking, anyway.
     The next speaker was half of the duo who brought to us this seminar. Tamara Lowe, along with her husband Peter, created the Get Motivated! Seminars 25 years ago and now exude the confidence that a successful endeavor can create. We never saw Peter, but Tamara spoke smoothly about the strategies for motivation. Growing up in New Orleans (she mentioned the Saints) she was a drug addict, pusher and eighth grade dropout who is now working on her doctorate. Her quotable quote was, “I went from LSD to PHD!” If I were still a salesman, I would have taken extensive notes about her closing techniques. Her pet term was “motivational DNA.” Though her voice and word inflection irritated me a bit, her presentation was substantive.
     By then it was time for lunch, and therein existed the biggest problem of the day at Toyota Center. We were given 65 minutes for lunch, so imagine 8,000-10,000 people exiting the seating area and all pushing at the same time to the encircling walkways for lunch. The snack serving areas were overwhelmed instantly. The entire walking area was shoulder to shoulder with 150 people in every food line. The menus on the walls were disregarded and all that was available were snack stuff like cheese and chips, hot dogs, and chili. I pushed my way through people for about 20 minutes and found a guy selling popcorn and Diet Cokes with only 20 or so people in line. I waited 15 minutes and then paid $9.00 for a box of popcorn and a 20 ounce Coke. I figured that would hold me till I got home. Back to my seat to await the next speaker. Promptly 65 minutes from dismissal for lunch our lovely master of ceremonies bounced back on the stage to introduce General Colin Powell.
     I have the deepest respect for General Powell. Born in the darkest regions of New York City, he brought himself to the top through work, dedication, and the influence of his parents. His message was that true leadership comes when a leader is able to convey a sense of purpose to his/her followers. To do that, a leader must treat his followers with respect and honesty. I enjoyed his anecdotes concerning him and President George Bush (43) and was surprised that he spoke very highly of the president. During his service with the president, the media made great issue that he and the president did not always see eye to eye about policies, but General Powell made no mention of any past conflict. In his retirement, he has loosened up a bit. The last time I heard him he was pretty straightforward and did not crack may jokes. This time he was much more laid back and relaxed. That’s what retirement will do for you.
     The next guy up to plate was somebody named James Smith, and when he had finished everyone was asking, “Who is this guy?” Where Krish Dhanam was evangelical and powerful in his presentation, James Smith was just as powerful, but funnier and far more irreverent. The subject of his diatribe was money mistakes common people make, but his underlying message was how to make money in real estate without spending any money. His pet peeves were parents who do not teach their children how to be successful and adults who wallow in self-pity over their situations but make no effort to change. His quotable quote was, “Turn on the GPS in your soul and ask God to guide you.” His name was not in the “training book” we received upon entry and I still don’t know how to reach him or his organization. I would pay to hear him again, though.
     Zig Zigler, the Grand Guru of Motivation, was next and it was heartbreaking to see him. I watched Zigler videos back in the seventies when I was in real estate and in the eighties when I was in automobile sales. He was an absolute master at motivation and could give the most depressed salesperson a glimmer of hope to keep pressing on, but now he was a shell of his former self. He was introduced by his daughter, who announced that her daddy had fallen a couple of years ago and suffered a severe brain injury. As a result, he had difficulty staying on task and in maintaining his balance. She would “guide him along.” Zig shuffled onto the platform with assistance and began to speak. 84 years old and with a shaky voice he began to speak, and he did pretty well for about 5-6 minutes. The familiar arm waving, the slow methodical speech, and the pattern of delivery were all very Zigleresque, but then he began to wander and repeat, and his daughter would remind him, “Now, Daddy, we’ve already talked about that, how about let’s mention…” As he talked, he walked (or, more accurately, shuffled) and I believe if his daughter had not turned him occasionally, he would have walked right off the edge of the stage. Perhaps because they expected this may happen, the daughter suddenly said, “Daddy, let’s let the people see some videos of your past presentations.” To which he replied simply, “Okay.” He and his daughter left the stage, the lights darkened, and we watched about fifteen minutes of Zig Zigler in his prime. The whole episode was depressing. He should have not been there; he should have been home on his back porch sipping an iced tea. He has paid his dues; he deserves a rest. I hope he is not being exploited by those who make money on the Zig Zigler name.
     Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach of Notre Dame University (and the University of Arkansas) was the next speaker and spoke of the Four Things Every Person Needs: (1) Something to do, (2) Someone to love, (3) Something to believe in, and (4) Something to hope for. He confessed to not being an intellectual. In fact, he joked that he was probably the only person there who had written as many books as he had read (3). He cracked a joke that he said he told the University of Texas coach while he himself was coaching the University of Arkansas Razorback football team. He said UT fans can wear orange all week because Saturday is game day, Sunday they wear orange to go hunting, and Monday through Friday they wear orange while they pick up trash on their jobs. There were a few groans in the audience.
     And then came Rudy. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, became a household name after the events of September 11, 2001. His face was everywhere in the days and weeks after 9/11, so much so that he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican Presidential nomination. He served eight years and helped change the image of New York City. His message was the importance of keeping up in the information age. Under his leadership, the crime rate dropped dramatically, and he credited this to computerizing and networking the police stations to pinpoint areas of high crime and concentrate policemen in those spots. The welfare system was computerized, and welfare workers who previously were paid based on the numbers of new welfare recipients they signed up, were now rewarded for the number of recipients they were able to find jobs for. Welfare recipients dropped from 1,400,000 to 900,000. The genius of America, he proposed, was our emphasis on the individual, rather than the group.
     He told a couple of anecdotes concerning 9/11. His office had received an alarm that a twin engine plane had crashed into the North Tower, and his group had rushed to the building. He said he got out of his car, and the first thing he saw was someone jump from the 109th floor of the Trade Center. He realized then that this was not a normal emergency. He then told how President Bush, having arrived and given a speech at the site of Ground Zero, was scheduled to leave the city in an hour, but instead stayed for six hours speaking to victims and encouraging city workers. At the end of the six hours, Giuliani was invited to ride with the president in his limousine. As they drove down the dusty streets of New York, thousands of people waved and yelled, “God bless you, Mr. President!” He asked the president, “Mr. President, do you see all these adoring people?” The president replied he did. “Well,” said Rudy, “Probably not a one of them voted for you!” He said President Bush laughed.
     By this time it was . Unbelievably, another speaker was introduced, but it was an unknown, and I felt sorry for whoever it was because there was a mass exodus from the arena, including myself. I knew the traffic going home would be bad, and I had heard the people I wanted to hear. Getting out of the downtown area was a bit of a chore, but I made it smoothly to about the Hardy Toll Road and Beltway 8 when the monsoon rains came. It was a wet drive the remainder of the way home. For me, the day was well spent. Although I have sort of stepped back from the mainstream of business and sales, the instruction and advice I heard today is just as applicable toward daily life and family interaction. It reminds me again for how much I have to be thankful for. Many of the goals and aspiration that the speakers talked about and gave advice for attaining, I began to realize that I already have. God has been especially good to me.