Boosting Morale with Hot Air

By Shaw, John | The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Boosting Morale with Hot Air


Shaw, John, The Christian Science Monitor


At first glance, the boom in motivational speakers is a harmless, almost charming, distinctly American phenomenon that reflects our healthy desire to improve - and our less healthy hunger for the quick fix.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with millions of Americans cramming into auditoriums each year to hear flamboyant speakers offer pithy, easily digestible formulas for fame, success, and wealth. No one seems to be injured by this business.

But the motivational-speaking boom is a troubling development. It undermines integrity, and at least tacitly rewards slickness rather than substance. It also perpetuates the ethos that quiet competence and modest achievement are pass, and that self-promotion is the best way to secure due rewards.

The success of prominent motivational speakers demonstrates that the most important thing in life is not so much accomplishing tangible goals, but packaging - and selling - a program that offers a sure road to success.

"There aren't a lot of people in this business who have actually accomplished much in the real world," one motivational speaker confided to me while attending a National Capital Speakers Association meeting. "It's a lot easier to talk," he added.

I'm convinced the motivational-speaking craze imposes real, if subtle, costs to our country's values. By example, if not by specific injunctions, many of these speakers impart values that corrode our national psyche.

Analysts agree the soaring market for motivational speakers is generated in large measure by the proliferation of conferences, seminars, and meetings organized by businesses, trade associations, universities, and others.

Not surprisingly, scores of entrepreneurs have recognized that there is plenty of money to be made through motivational speeches which can then be used to promote books, tapes, CDs, seminars, and workshops. There is even a cottage industry of people who give speeches, seminars, and workshops on how to make money giving speeches, seminars, and workshops.

According to several Washington speakers bureaus, daily fees range from $1,000 for the moderately successful speaker to $15,000 for the niche celebrity, to more than $100,000 for national celebrities.

One speaker, Tom Morris, a former philosophy professor at Notre Dame, doesn't seem to find any limits in response to the fees he charges. "I keep raising my prices but people still keep calling, and I don't even do any marketing. I didn't win a war, I didn't win a national football championship, I'm just a philosopher."

The motivational-speaking industry has grown into a multibillion- dollar enterprise. Speakers such as Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and Keith Harrell have become millionaires and built veritable empires dispensing advice. I believe most participants in this business share culpability for the burgeoning hot-air charade.

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