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Get Motivated! Seminar Draws Crowds, And Some Criticism

ERIC GERSHON

September 10, 2009

HARTFORD - Laura Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell and Joe Montana didn't come to the XL Center Wednesday to pitch products or services. They just told stories.

But the celebrities along with cheap ticket prices helped draw an overflow crowd for "Get Motivated!," a one-day event billed as a business seminar that, unbeknown to many attendees beforehand, doubled as a sales pitch for costly investment seminars and other products, and for Christian evangelism. (Pictures: "Get Motivated!" In Hartford)

"The real superstar is Jesus Christ," intoned Tamara Lowe, who with her husband, Peter, runs Get Motivated! Seminars Inc., the Florida company behind Wednesday's event and similar events throughout the country.

Not everyone who attended the event, which flooded downtown Hartford with about 19,000 people, cared for the overt religious proselytizing.

"To be perfectly honest with you, it pissed me off," said Bill White of Westfield, Mass., who helps manage a CVS store in Bloomfield. "I have my own beliefs and I don't like it when somebody tries to shove it down my throat."

White said he felt misled by the event's advertisements, which emphasize business skill development, increasing profits and overcoming challenges, but make no mention at all of religion. "I almost feel like I've been lied to," he said.

Event officials declined to discuss the event's religious aspect.

But if the unexpected religious elements bothered some people, the commercial aspect, which also received little or no advance publicity, seemed less controversial.

White said he signed up for an upcoming Wealth Magazine investor education seminar heavily promoted by one of the speakers, investor and author Phil Town.

So did Rick Robinson, a former chef in Beverly Hills, Calif., who now runs a small construction business in western Massachusetts.

"Once I calm down from today, then my wife and I will read all the fine print," he said. "If it makes sense, we'll do it."

When Robinson, 39, bought 20 tickets for "Get Motivated!" for about $20, he wasn't thinking about investing, in particular.

"I looked at the lineup and I just saw some very successful people," he said. "If you want to be successful, you've got to surround yourself with success."

Robinson said he gave one of his extra tickets he had 16 left over to a panhandler outside the XL Center. "'Here's more than money,'" he said he told the man.

"I just search for opportunity," Robinson said. "Always search for opportunity. That's why I'm here."

Diane Oles of Guilford, who works for a medical practice in Meriden, took a dimmer view of the sales component.

"When there's a sales piece in there, you question what's gone before," she said, taking care to note that not every speaker tried to sell something. "There was no sales pitch in Laura Bush's address except her husband's a great guy."

The event's marquee celebrities, who included businessman and former Republican presidential primary candidate Steve Forbes, stuck to their own scripts, offering anecdotes and stories from their lives.

Montana, a former NFL quarterback and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, took the stage before 8:15 a.m. and emphasized the importance of preparation, a theme on which Giuliani elaborated in the afternoon. Preparing carefully for other, anticipated disasters put New York City officials in a strong position for responding ably to the unforeseen 9/11 attacks, he said.

Laura Bush told stories from the White House and her life afterward, including domestic life with her husband, former President George W. Bush.

"Memo to the ex-president," she said. "Turmoil in East Timor is no longer an excuse not to pick up your socks."

At one point, the former first lady produced a bobblehead figure of herself and mounted it on the lectern, saying that a friend had found it "on the clearance shelf," bought it and sent it to her.

Powell, the former secretary of state, was the final major speaker of the day. He was also the only one who mentioned doing anything in Hartford on Wednesday other than speaking at the seminar. Before his late-afternoon appearance at the XL Center, he addressed children at the Asylum Hill Boys & Girls Club, he said. (Pictures: Colin Powell Visits The Boys And Girls Clubs Of Hartford)

Powell also was the only speaker to express an opinion about a controversy currently in the news. Referring to criticism of President Barack Obama's national education speech to school children Tuesday, Powell said, "People are mad at the president because he spoke to some students. Give me a break!"

Powell, who emphasized the importance of trust as an element of leadership and joked wistfully about the perks of power, gently brushed back an audience member's call to "run for president" a spontaneous outburst elicited by neither Giuliani nor Forbes, who have run for president.

"No, no, don't go there," he said in response, laughing. "I'm too old to run for anything."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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