Get Motivated, And Get Out
by Geoff Kelly - posted 4:13 pm, August 19, 2009
AV correspondent Ellen Przepasniak on yesterday’s “Get Motivated” seminar at HSBC Arena:
Picture this. The emcee of Tuesday’s “Get Motivated” seminar is standing on a stage in the middle of a sold-out HSBC Arena. The pristine blonde woman in four-inch gold pumps roars, elongating every vowel, “Laaaadiiiiieeees aaaand geeeentleeemeeeen, Miiiisteeer Steeeeveeee Foooooorbeeeees!” The PA system begins playing Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2”—the same song the Sabres skate out to—and the editor of Forbes magazine runs down the aisle like a superstar, high-fiving people on his way and steps on stage pumping his fist in the air to pyrotechnics blowing up all around him. In no other setting would Forbes, the editor of a dry business magazine, get this rockstar reception.
“Get Motivated” is a full-day motivational seminar featuring big-ticket names like Forbes, Joe Montana, Colin Powell, and Rudy Giuliani. The organizers offered discount tickets if employers took their entire office as a substitute for a day’s work, so HSBC Arena was filled to its 19,000-seat capacity. During the all-day seminar, the attendees ran though various points of standard inspirational speaking sprinkled with financial advice. The atmosphere was somewhere between a hockey game and a megachurch. The four corners of the stage were draped with flags with the words “INSPIRE!” and “MOTIVATE!” and each speaker was greeted on the stage with fireworks and loud pop music presumably intended to pump people up.
Most of the celebrity speakers’ messages were fairly safe, akin to graduation speeches. Forbes’ big point was innovation: You get ahead not by coming up with something new, but modifying something existing. He idolized Sam Walton, the founder of big-box behemoth Wal-Mart, as someone who thought “outside the box.” (How ironic considering the store is one giant box.) As he trashed the federal income tax, he railed against government left and right. “The bottom line is stop trashing the US dollar,” he said, to thunderous applause. “Make it worth holding again!”
Powell was the best speaker of the day. He was personable, funny and, as always, diplomatic. He was nostalgic for his old days of diplomacy, when journalists and foreign leaders jockeyed for his time. “When you step down from such a great height, there is an emptiness that comes upon you, spiritual and emotional emptiness,” he said. Powell mostly spoke to the managers in the audience as he related his time in the White House to an average office setting. “[In the Army] leadership was all about followers and followership,” he said. “You’ve got to find that sense of purpose in the heart of every person in your organization.” Powell’s final piece of advice was: “You’ll know you’re a good leader when your troops will follow you if only out of curiosity.” He then exited the stage to the song “Proud to Be an American.”
Montana, looking svelte in a slimming black suit and bright purple tie, clearly felt he didn’t need to impress the audience with his eloquent oratorial skills. He had something more valuable in his repertoire: football anecdotes. His gems included “Quarterbacks are always in early and leave late” and
“I have to put trust in the five fat guys in front of me” and “When I think about work ethic, the first thing that comes to mind is Jerry Rice.” Giuliani, of course, mentioned 9/11 endlessly while speaking about perseverance. He joked that he realizes there’s a small corner of people in the “left corner of New York City” who don’t support him, but that just makes him try harder to reach out to them.
In between the four big names were other Oprah-ready businessmen-turned-motivational-speakers who filled time with charts, graphs, and anecdotal pandering. Long-time inspirational speaker Zig Ziglar also took the stage to excited applause; some seasoned attendees had seen Ziglar two or three times before. According to the press material, the speakers were chosen because of their individual business prowess. But the speaker list begged the question: Why was Tamara Lowe the lone female speaker and Powell the sole African American.
Even stranger was the subtext of Christianity. The main organizer, Tamara Lowe, who wrote the “Get Motivated” book series that the seminar is based on, went on a 10-minute diatribe about loving the Lord. As she spun a typical narrative about making her way through a male-dominated business world, she confusingly concluded, “The definitive proof of my intelligence is marrying my wonderful husband.” She then launched into a motivational rap that ended in: “Give your life to God while there’s still time.” Several other speakers mentioned accepting God in the context of getting yourself motivated and out of a rut.
Lowe’s selling point is a “motivational DNA” theory, and she had the Powerpoint presentation to back it up. “The DNA stuff was quite helpful. I decided I’m a producer,” said Robin Foley, a data entry clerk whose employer paid for her whole office to attend the seminar. “But the religious stuff wasn’t necessary and they should think about who they’re speaking to. Maybe in the South, they believe it, but you should gauge your audiences more and do a little research.”
My test subject for the motivation level of the audience throughout the eight-hour seminar was a 20-something attendee. In the morning, he leaned forward in rapture during Montana’s speech and laughed at the former quarterback’s every football-related anecdote. But by the mid-afternoon speakers, he was lethargic, and dozed off twice. He didn’t appear driven. Many other attendees were doodling, chatting amongst themselves, and the arena was fairly cleared out by 3:30pm.