Saturday, September 25, 2004

Preaching to the Converted for Big Bucks

Argh. I just sat down to look over my e-mail -- actually to sort out
the crap in the Junk box -- to find yet another notification of yet
another seminar promising to make me a millionaire by unlocking my
talents as a speaker.

Of course, the sponsors of these events call them seminars. I call
them pimp festivals. There's nothing sadder than roping in a few
hundred dopes whose dreams are perpetuated but never realized through the courses and events put on by professional carneys.

In case you think this is an insignificant trend, let me assure you
that it's not. These snake oil circuses go all the way back in time,
originating with revival meetings held under tents scattered across
the prairies of America. The only difference is that in the old
days, people were coming to receive Jesus, not over-priced self-help

For some reason, everyone out there thinks he's qualified to speak on
a topic. The worst of the bunch are professional motivators, who,
from what I can tell, are men and women who were too uncoordinated to
be cheerleaders in high school. Motivational speakers are usually
brought into conventions and corporate events to hype up the troops,
generally getting them to sell more and be happier -- or at least
less miserable -- while they do it.

The darker side of motivational speaking is somewhat more disturbing.

I have a friend who happens to be an accountant. A number of her
clients buy into this motivational stuff -- big time. They can spend
upward of $30,000 a year on this junk. That would be just fine with
me -- if it actually worked. The problem she's found is that in
every single case, each client's business actually has decreased over
successive years.

And that's the real problem with most speakers today. They're the
Chinese food of the Information Age: they sound really good at the
show, but a few hours later, you have nothing to show for it.

I recently looked at the line-up of a speaking show being pimped to
everyone who is associated with any kind of marketing, speaking or
publicity career. The idea is to hook people bent on becoming the
next Tony Robbins to fork over close to a thousand bucks to attend a
three day event which promises to enhance their speaking careers.

Some of what these guys are offering is true. For example, the event
really does cost about a thousand bucks. After that, you're on your

Lest you think I'm making this stuff up, I must tell you that I
investigated this racket two times myself. The first time was for a
four day event in which I was a featured speaker to an audience
wanting to embark on internet ventures. Although it was promoted by
a legendary hack, I think I gave the people a fairly valuable insight
into how branding was critical to their venture, along with tools and
tactics they could take home with them.

The second venture was altogether different.

I arrived to find myself speaking before -- ready for this? -- a room
full of professional wannabe speakers. It seems that there's a huge
organization out there of speakers who rarely speak to anyone other
than members of their organization. That's right: speakers who only
speak to speakers. I could hardly keep my mind trained on my own
topic as I glanced around the room to see characters of all shapes
and colors, brochures in hand, convinced they were just one step away
from their own nationally-syndicated television show.

These are dues-paying members. The kind that load up on charlatans'
self-help books at $500 a copy and tape sets that go for two thousand
a crack ("collect the entire series!"). And evidently, there's a
nation full of them, just waiting to cash in on their own fifteen
minutes of fame so that they can sell their worthless crap to
millions of other unsuspecting victims.

P.T. Barnum said there's a sucker born every minute. Chances are
they're all reading the same book on "How to Be A Successful Speaker."