By Lindsay Toler
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By Allison Babka
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By Kelsey McClure
If you coughed up the much-hyped sum of $1.95 to attend the Get Motivated! seminar at Scottrade Center on April 27 — or spent the similarly ballyhooed low, low price of $9.95 to take your entire office — you received helpful advice from speakers including Colin Powell, Laura Bush and Kurt Warner.
But that advice did not include an exhortation to read the fine print — or to do your homework before signing on the dotted line. Not one of the speakers counseled you to think before giving your credit-card number to any outfit that, buried in the fine print, advises that it will begin charging a $39 monthly fee unless you sent a cancelation notice to Tampa, Florida, by midnight Saturday. In writing.
And no one, oddly, bothered to suggest that you should never, ever trust anyone who offers to help you become a millionaire out of the sheer goodness of his heart. This is a level of detail, apparently, that's beneath Colin, Laura and a host of other celebrities cashing in on the Get Motivated! gravy train. Or maybe these aging luminaries have no interest in biting the slightly oily hand that's feeding them.
Get Motivated! is pitched as a business seminar styled for the patriotic, striving self-improver. Rudy Giuliani on perseverance! Kurt Warner on competitiveness! Howard Putnam, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, talks about management, while celebrated college football coach emeritus Lou Holtz takes on motivation, and retired general Colin Powell tackles leadership!
And there was all that on Wednesday, April 27. There was even Zig Ziglar's acolyte, Krish Dhanam, giving an audience-friendly recitation on the greatness of America, followed by an optional ten-minute "spiritual" bonus that concluded with an altar call right out of an evangelical church — only everyone who gave their life to Jesus was promised a Zig Ziglar CD to go along with eternal salvation. Now that's America.
But there's another side to America, and it was on full display in the presentations of the three speakers who weren't advertised on tickets or billboards or advertising spots for the Scottrade event. These men aren't mentioned in the official $4.95 Get Motivated! handbook or in any of the promotional literature. But they're the cash-guzzling, smog-spewing engine underneath all the fancy Get Motivated! chrome — a trio of salesmen who'd have made P.T. Barnum proud.
The celebrities are merely the bait. The trap: three-plus hours of sales pitches designed to sell you on the idea that you can make a zillion on the Internet by selling stuff you don't actually own. Or snapping up foreclosures. Or buying a set of online personal-investment tools.
And though the owners of Get Motivated! claimed last week to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that these snake-oil purveyors are "sponsors," that's not quite true. The hardest of the hard sells, the one that gets the coveted lunchtime spot and sports the highest price tag, comes from a company owned by the same man who's behind the entire Get Motivated! concept.
It's a time-share deal on steroids — one in which Laura Bush and Colin Powell have agreed to be the "free" lunch.
At a sprightly 74, Lou Holtz boasts an enviable stage presence. He talks kind of funny — a hint of a speech impediment lurks in his S's — but you can't help but be charmed by that beatific smile, his you-can-do-it attitude, the excitement he can't help sharing. For the St. Louis crowd, he even performs a magic trick. (Struggling to tear a copy of USA Today into quarters, only to present it untouched a few seconds later, he remarks, "When I was younger, that was a phone book." The laugh he gets is one of the day's biggest.)
By the time Holtz finishes speaking, at 10 a.m., the crowd that has nearly filled Scottrade to its capacity of 20,000 is positively glowing. He's followed by Dhanam, the heir to the Zig Ziglar legacy, telling the crowd of Missourians exactly what they want to hear about how he arrived from India with $9 in his pocket and eventually gave his life to Christ and found material success to boot, no government assistance necessary. What a country!
Then Bob Kittell steps up.
It's 10:35 a.m., and the crowd is fresh from a bathroom break. Most of them have been here for three hours, and they're primed for some big names. When the day's emcee, former child actress Kari Michaelsen — she played Katie Kanisky in the '80s sitcom Gimme a Break! — announces that audiences have told Get Motivated! they're most hungry for financial advice, a murmur ripples through. "Steve Forbes," one man tells his companion, confidently.
But it's not Steve Forbes who takes the stage. It is, instead, a man who receives little introduction, even though unlike the "names" on today's bill, he could use one. All Michaelsen explains is that he's here to talk about the power of education and finance, and he has done training for CNBC and Businessweek. No other credentials are proffered before she cries out, "Bob Kittell!" There's an audible chorus of "who?" as a man sporting a Kennedyesque shock of chestnut hair strides to the stage.