Ordinarily, I have a strict rule not to review something I have not finished. However, the “Get Motivated! Business Seminar” isn’t a movie or book whose plot might right itself before the end. It is essentially a mislabeled bottle of wine. It also requires comment from someone (me) who believes that a reviewer’s primary purpose is to warn others not to waste money and time. Don’t get me wrong, I love to praise things, but explaining why something is a waste of time in particular is usually more helpful to a wider audience than saying that a movie is a must-see or similar praise. “Get Motivated!” is not just a colossal waste of time, it is very close to a bait and switch scheme.
The “seminar” in Birmingham had 8 scheduled speakers (one was added after the slate was set and billboards posted--I will get to that in a moment): Rudy Giuliani “America’s Mayor”, Gen. Colin Powell “World-Famous Soldier Statesman”, Laura Bush “Former First Lady”, Rick Belluzzo “Legendary President of Microsoft”, “Zig Ziglar “America’s #1 Motivator” and Krish Dhanam “Top Sales Training Expert” (the other two were Nick Saban Alabama’s football coach and Gene Chizik, Auburn’s football coach I have them listed parenthetically for both symbolic and structural reasons that will hopefully be clear in a few paragraphs).
I am a liberal who doesn’t really care about football, so I am either hostile or indifferent to all but Mr.s Ziglar, Belluzzo, and Dhanam about whom I knew little until looking them up which then put them in either hostile or indifferent categories. I didn’t want to hear any of them speak but the ticket to the event was presented to me and my co-workers in such a way that it seemed attendance was required. Realizing I was baited with something I didn’t like that was switched to something I didn’t want or need, I decided I needed to go to the office and do the work I’m paid to do. Glibly, I was motivated to leave but rather than go home and veg, I did in fact go back to the office to work.
I want to continue the bottle of wine metaphor. The promise on the label is a dry red valued at let’s say $100 discounted to $10. I read the label very carefully thinking there has to be a catch, but I find none. It turns out that the bottle is only half full, is watered down altar wine and comes with a special prize—a crucifix falls into the glass. I wish I was kidding.
Here’s what I mean. The ticket says “Get Motivated!” I assume that the people listed will speak on the topics that appear under their names in the material. Rick Belluzzo “Business Skills” reminded us many times that he worked for Hewlett Packard (he mentioned Microsoft exactly once) and that when the market changes, your business has to change; he makes no mention of how. So cross that off as ineffective. Next was General Powell “Leadership.” He was funny and personable but spent more time talking about his ties to Birmingham through his wife than anything even close to leadership; all I could take away was that I needed to be nice to parking attendants and that if I had grandkids the only way to keep up with them was to get a twitter account. So cross that off as ineffective. Laura Bush was given the vague sobriquet “Special Guest.” Unlike the others she had a podium and written speech which she delivered in the same way any of us would after just half a semester of Public Speaking 101 and with a very heavy drawl. Apparently she was given no assignment to write/read a speech to motivate or inspire. She spent her time giving us an update on her family—I have never liked her family … ever; I didn’t want to know anything about them when any of them were in office let alone now that they are all, hopefully forever and ever, out of the public eye. I left after her speech. But there were two other speakers—one on the billboard, the other not—between General Powell and Ms. Bush, and they are what made me (and make others I will get to in a moment) very angry.
The one not on the billboard was the first of two men I’ll call the “Timeshare-Hardsell” dudes. I don’t want to name them or their “products” here from principle alone, but what they are and do is the issue not who they are. He spent an hour pushing a website/service for buying and selling stock. To retire in a couple of years with a cool two million, all I have to do is follow the red and green arrows on the website to advise me on when to buy and sell; literally all I have to do is click when the arrows say to. But wait, there’s more. The site/service runs a 2 day seminar on how to use the tool and it usually costs $2300. But since we are motivated enough to brave traffic, rain, cold, and hard seats, “Get Motivated!” leaned hard on this company and we can get all of that for the low low low low price of (you guessed it because it is the magic number) $99. The problem is that “Get Motivated!” didn’t expect as many people as showed up, so there are a limited number of slots so better sign up fast. Before more specific comment I want to say I am very proud of the fellow sufferers in section 4U of the BJCC Arena, only about a dozen of the 200ish people took the bait. Though we had been sitting in uncomfortable spots, too close to one another, we stayed where we were – our school of fish lived to swim another day with our finances in exactly the same condition now as before.
First, bullshit. “Get Motivated!” has known for at least a couple of weeks how many people would show up. They would have to get up way earlier than I did – and I got up at an obscene hour in order to get there early enough to get what I call escape-parking (easy in but more importantly, easy out) – for me to fall for that old saw. That offended my intelligence, but what happened sandwiched on either side of Timeshare-Hardsell Dude 1 offended me personally.
Krish Dhanam was supposed to speak on “Communication.” He sort of did, but only the extent of it was to tell your wife and child every day that you love them. For his first turn on the stage about a third of the words he lilted were his own the rest were quotes nearly all from the early days of the American experience. He ran through Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech, the whole thing, in about 8 seconds sounding like an Indian auctioneer selling mislabeled bottles of wine (and he forgot to name the actual speaker of that famous quote). I learned his wife’s and son’s name, that he loves them, his father’s birthday, and that he loves him and he can memorize long quotes from other people. So cross that off as ineffective.
The emcee claimed, twice, that when “Get Motivated!” polls people like me, the number one thing we want to hear about are spiritual matters “with finances being second, of course.” Ok, bullshit. Not everyone wants to hear about the Christian God anyway, let alone on a Monday, let alone at a “business seminar” that doesn’t say the first thing about spirituality, but most people going to a business seminar would be interested in hearing about money … I mean business is money, so context tells me that.
However, since most of us want to hear about spiritual matters, they call back Mr. Dhanam to make a second pace around the stage. He explains that, though he had everything he ever wanted, he still had a gaping hole in his heart. Then he went to a seminar very much like this one where he heard what he called a “motivational aphorism.” The short version is “Come into my life lord Jesus Christ and be my number one.” I wish I was kidding, but those are the first words of this motivational aphorism. I sat there totally agape for 10 minutes as 18,000 attendees at what, to all the world looked like a secular gathering, were witnessed to.
This ultimately means one thing, which I will use as a bridge to a wider angle. It means “Get Motivated!” has done the focus studies that tell them people who speak about a personal relationship with “The Living God” as Mr. Dhanam called Him/It connect with other believers making them slightly more likely to agree to whatever is said, even if it is counter to core tenets of faith. That they can afford to offend a wider audience, most of whom were there under the same circumstances as me. Please understand I am not saying that all believers behave as sheep and many around me were offended (and became even more so, apparently when Timeshare-Hardsell Dude 2 used the word “God” in every other sentence pushing his financial brilliance—I cannot speak to that directly since I had already left; but based on what I heard, my head would have exploded had I stayed).
More broadly, “Get Motivated!” uses almost exclusively white men, roughly half are Republicans or openly support conservative candidates. For Birmingham and the next 4 cities (Fresno, San Diego, Portland, Memphis) there are only 2 African Americans—both male—and three women—all white. Of these 5 people--General Powell, Bill Cosby, Laura Bush, Julie Ziglar, and Leigh Ann Tuohy—none have run a business. Ms. Bush and Ms. Ziglar are famous by marriage and Ms. Tuohy is known only because Sandra Bullock played her in a movie. There are people of color and women who have run businesses and can speak specifically to that matter, why are they not on any of the billboards or anywhere in the “Get Motivated!” pipeline?
One telling clue to this is the other people that fill up the billboard: football players and coaches. Joe Montana seems to be a standard for the western sites, Terry Bradshaw and Lou Holtz for the middle of the country (I can’t speak to the east coast at present). And in Alabama? January of 2010 Nick Saban led the Alabama Crimson Eleph…oops Tide to a BCS National Championship. So “Get Motivated!” has him apparently to speak about “Teamwork” but while Alabama began the 2010 season as #1 in the polls, two embarrassing losses ended the hope of a repeat. The slate of speakers would probably not have changed except for the fact that Alabama’s rival, Auburn, took over the #1 spot and a year after the Bama win, Auburn won the same title. Realizing that if Jesus was a Tide fan, the Auburn crowd would become Hindu, “Get Motivated!” had to add Mr. Chizik.
“Get Motivated!” is structured to do the hard sell to white, straight, married, conservative, Christian men who know a thing or two about football. They also seem to focus on these men living in B to B- cities (Birmingham, not Atlanta; Fresno, not San Francisco; San Diego, not Los Angeles; Portland, not Seattle or again SF; and Memphis, not St Louis). Cynically (and I believe totally realistically), putting a person of color or woman who has or is running a successful business (other than pushing “Get Motivated!” or “Get Motivated!”-lite services) would tend to put off their target audience. Glibly, and again I think realistically, people of color and women who have or are running successful businesses realize that shilling for Timeshare-Hardsell dudes is beneath them.
If they happen to snag a woman, person of color, single, gay, moderate or liberal, religiously-other … I can’t finish that conditional because if that was true the world would probably grind to a halt from the absurdity.
If your company is considering or has paid for tickets to any of the events, please just enter the following into a Google search: “Get Motivated” either the first or second automatic fill-in will be “seminar scam.” Take a quick look at those and realize that taking the office to play paintball is a far better way to motivate people than having them deal with apocalyptic parking problems and sitting in hard seats for 8 hours.
No straight, white, conservative, married, Christian, football loving men were harmed in the writing of this essay. Having been born in Georgia the essayist is allowed by the rococo Alabama Constitution to remain neutral on the Alabama vs Auburn war. And he is a firm believer in the bon mot from Dave Matthews that it isn’t “where but who you’re with that really matters.”
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