Getting motivated

Today, I enjoyed something of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I heard a load of highly-regarded people speak about their experiences -- live, in person, standing less than 50 yards in front of me. I can now say I’ve seen two former first ladies in person, and I got to cross an entry off my yet-to-be-written-but-stored-in-my-head Bucket List.

Several colleagues and I acquired tickets to a leadership and business seminar in Kansas City. The speakers: Rudy Giuliani, Robert Schuller, Laura Bush, Joe Montana, Colin Powell, Bill Cosby and many more.

The excitement was dampened, however, when some of us started doing a little research about the event and found a handful of poor reviews from USA Today and various message boards. The reviewers maintained the seminar is loaded with sales pitches to attend additional seminars and purchase software. They said the seminar is filled with political and religious overtones. They said there’s no guarantee that all the advertised speakers would actually appear.

So we went into the day with the lowest expectations. Fully prepared to leave at lunch time if we weren’t getting what we hoped, wanted or needed.

* * *
Instead of the alarm I set last night, I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a rolling thunder outside. Shortly after 5, we were driving toward Kansas City, watching a spectacular lightning show in front of us as dawn broke.

(Strangely, with the getting up extra early and heading to a work assignment during a solid thunderstorm, I was reminded of the morning a couple summers ago that I spent with the FBI as they raided the homes of suspected drug dealers. That morning we also were in the midst of a rocking storm with spectacular lightning. But there were no power outages today. Don‘t ask me how the whole FBI experience relates to today. ...)

At the arena shortly after 7 a.m., we settled into our seats. A square stage, lined with floral arrangements on every side, stood on the middle of the floor. Giant video boards hanging in every corner flashed “Get motivated!” And motivational music blared from the speakers -- Van Halen’s “Right Now,” Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride,” among many others.

Certainly we were in for some kind of experience. And it didn’t help our expectations when the program began with a man jumping to the stage, amid a shower of sparks, and gave a dramatic rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was way over-the-top. Eyes rolled. Other speakers stepped to the stage among shooting flames or windfalls of confetti or balloons.

But as the parade of speakers got underway, we were pleasantly surprised. Sure, the morning sessions carried some strong patriotic themes that segued into religious themes during the afternoon. But they weren't so in-your-face distracting that they clouded the speakers' messages.

In fact, it was the kind of experience where I wished I had my audio recorder to capture some of speakers’ words of wisdom. Except the seminar’s organizers frown upon that because they're trying to make money … I also wished I had my camera with me to snap some photos as proof “I was there!” All I had was the lousy camera on my Blackberry. I’ve GOT to start carrying my camera with me everywhere.

* * *
I could write a super long post about all of the words of wisdom and enlightening experiences each speaker relayed. But I'll stick to sharing the things that stick with me tonight …

Howard Putnam, CEO of Southwest Airlines, started the day. (Let me say I have great admiration and respect for Southwest Airlines. I got to hear the company's media coordinator speak several weeks ago in a much different setting -- very cool.) He told the story of his entrance into the airline industry and unlikely rise to the top of Southwest. Turns out he's a native of the region and even gave a shout out to The 'Ville. During his presentation, he emphasized the importance of balance in your life -- family, church, career, community and personal. Turbulence is certain, he said. Misery is optional.

Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor." He talked about our movement into the information revolution. Years ago we relied on newspapers or televisions to get our news, and we usually didn‘t receive it until hours after the news broke. Today, he noted, we know within moments when a tsunami strikes Japan or a tornado hits Joplin. Fascinating, I say. He says: Get plugged in. Embrace it. Or you'll be lost. He went on to illustrate the ways he used new technology to help lower New York City’s crime rate and improve the city overall. ... He also offered his four keys to being successful (all four of which I practice regularly, thank you very much. But then again I make my living by writing, so I'd be lost if I didn't do these things. The "successful" part of the equation is still being determined...):
1. Read. So your mind may grow. As a kid, he said, he was brainwashed by pinstripes. The first book he ever read was a children’s biography about Babe Ruth. From there, he moved on to books about Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. His love of the Yankees is well-known. 
2. Listen. And talk to other people.
3. Write things down. When you think of a great idea, write it down. You may forget it, and never get it back. 
4. Think. Take at least five minutes every day to get off the merry-go-round and think.
Laura Bush, former first lady. ... The whole time she was talking, I couldn’t help but be struck by her southern charm and beauty. She also was quite funny, delivering several one liners and amusing comments about her presidential husband and their life in the White House. ... She emphasized the importance of living in the moment, talking briefly about the excitement of their 2000 presidential campaign and then the confusion of the election. “That’s how George became a brush-clearing Zen master of Texas,” she said. ... She told of launching a book festival on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Mall in Washington, D.C., with 30,000 people there to discuss and share their favorite books. … On Sept. 11, she was off to Capitol Hill when a Secret Serviceman told her a plane hit the World Trade Center, and she ended up watching the news coverage in Ted Kennedy’s office. ... She recalled leaving the White House after Barack Obama was inaugurated. The couple was content and satisfied, and George repeated something to Laura that he said often during his presidency, “We’re the Big Ship America. We may lean to the left or to the right, but we stay the course.”

As sort of a commercial break between speakers, a couple of performers by the name of Quick Change took the stage. I had never heard of them … But I won’t forget them now. The moral of their performance, the emcee told us afterward: Nothing’s impossible.  

Gen. Colin Powell, "World-Famous Soldier Statesman. Gen. Powell talked about the importance of making yourself an essential part of your organization. Convey a sense of purpose and have passion, he said. Be strong and treat everyone as a human-being. To illustrate the latter point, he told a story about a parking attendant directing cars into a lot. After the attendant gave one driver a prime parking space, the driver asked the attendant why he received the better spot. The attendant said, “Because you were the only one to roll down your window and ask how my day was going.”

Admittedly, my mind was wandering a little bit at this point. The morning's remaining speakers weren't as awe-inspiring as their predecessors. ... We heard Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc., talk about the success some entrepreneurs have had taking every day materials and improving them to make big bucks -- bottled water, Starbucks coffee, denim jeans. Be aware, he said. ... We heard Bob Harrison, a top sales training expert, talk about his success as a car salesman.

* * *

At 1 p.m., it was time for lunch. Finally.

To make a long story short: We had an hour to spare for lunch. Our group took time making a decision on where to eat. We joined the throngs exiting the arena and descending on the downtown district. We got into a line that stretched past the door of a bar and grill. A half hour passed before we were seated. Nearly another hour passed before we received our food. And when we finished eating, two hours had passed since the time our lunch break started. We missed Robert Schuller and Joe Montana, two speakers I really wanted to see … Worst of all, my colleague Mitzi and I learned later that the rest of our group didn’t care to attend the afternoon sessions. Mitzi and I could have stayed in the arena, purchased food from the concession stands and been just fine.


* * *
Back at the arena ...
John Walsh, host and creator of “America’s Most Wanted.” He told the gripping story of the search to find his kidnapped son. Not the cheeriest of motivational stories, but the experience kindled his decision to launch “America’s Most Wanted” and become a victim rights activist.

And then ...

The great Bill Cosby, "America's Favorite Comedian."

It had been a lifetime goal of mine to see Bill Cosby live. (Viewing a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman was a close second on my entertainment bucket list. I guess that’s first now). … No, I didn’t get to see him perform a full-hour comedy set. But at this point, that doesn’t matter. The guy is so full of wisdom, I’d listen to him talk about anything.

Cosby received an immediate standing ovation when he appeared on the floor. My smile must have been as wide as my shoulders as I applauded and watched him, wearing one of his sweat suits, walk to the stage. Like the other speakers, Cosby spoke about 30 minutes. But his lecture might have been the most relatable of any speaker, and it was probably the one I soaked up most.

Cosby’s message was pretty simple. Invest in something. Work hard for what you want out of life, and you’ll succeed. Don’t procrastinate.

And oh, there were some good comedic bits along the way. He riffed for several minutes on people who start smoking “to be cool” but then make excuses for not quitting, even thought they know the habit is bad for their health. “Stop presenting yourself on a reality show,” Cosby continued. “Stay off 'Judge Judy.' ”

Perhaps the most entertaining part of Cosby’s lecture, though it was by accident, started when an audience member interrupted Cosby by yelling “Go Army!” Clearly annoyed by the person’s lack of respect, Cosby shook his head and rolled his eyes at the person. As Cosby proceeded, he called out the man a couple times -- best of all when he was making a point that a person sometimes has to do things he or she doesn’t want to do in order to reach the end goal. Cosby was illustrating the point by resting on his hands and knees, pretending to scrub the floor, and he called out, “Go Army.”

He concluded by saying “Education, education, education. ... The revolution starts in that house with that child.”

When Cosby left the stage it was going on 5 o’clock -- the time the program was supposed to be over.

Oh, but there was a bonus speaker, the emcee bellowed. It was Gen. Stanley McCrystal. Who would have been an excellent speaker, I’m sure. … But we were anxious and tired, and saw no advantages to sitting in that arena any longer.

Most of the crowd was thinking along the same lines. As the emcee continued his schpeal, a flood of people followed us to the gates, and we overheard one woman walking behind us say, “Bill Cosby just told us to take control of our lives and our time, so that’s what we’re doing.”

And there you have it.

No comments: