To advance any larger goal or purpose, you must "give your troops the training and equipment they need to get the job done," he says. That means incentives like bonuses, promotions and raises, not to mention recognition when people do a good job. While at the State Department, Powell recalls, he'd write employees notes to thank them or recognize their efforts and accomplishments. The slips of paper cost nothing, but later he'd notice the recipients had framed the scrawled words of encouragement and displayed them on their desks. "You've got to reach out and touch people," Powell says. "Make sure they know you value them."

He concludes his speech with praise for America—"We continue to be the leader; the world wants to be free!"—and the crowd rises, cheering, as "Proud to Be an American" sounds from the speakers. While waiting for the next part of the show, some people sit and thumb through their 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition Get Motivated! Workbook. The glossy cover features a photo of Tamara and Peter Lowe grinning and holding up a Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy (it's unclear what the couple had to do with this triumph, but similar pictures appear throughout the book—Tamara hugging Jerry Lewis, Peter posing with Naomi Judd, even a snapshot of the couple talking with Mother Teresa). There are articles by celebrity speakers. (Zig Ziglar writes, "Motivation gives you the 'want to,' training and education give you the 'how to,'" while Jerry Lewis offers, "We all need humor to get through life.") There are articles on finance ("How to Get Out of Debt and Stay Out"), health ("Diet Myths You Need to Know") and relationships ("How to Spice Up Your Marriage in Two Weeks!").

That so many people are drawn to self-help is a testament to how many people want to make changes in their lives but don't want to go into therapy or simply can't afford it, says Marion Jacobs, a psychologist, adjunct psychology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of Take Charge Living: How to Recast Your Life One Role at a Time. "Sometimes it's high-quality, and sometimes it's quackery," she says. "That's the dilemma—often people don't know how to evaluate that." The problem with general advice of the sort delivered by many motivational speakers, which she refers to as "bumper sticker advice," is that people may be momentarily pumped up but lack guideposts for how to implement change. "A change that's hard to make takes more than advice—it takes time and persistence, and inevitably you're going to come up against personal resistance about doing it because there's something that held you back, and that something needs to be dealt with."

Optimism is a key to success, former New York mayor and failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani told the crowd.
Danny Fulgencio
Optimism is a key to success, former New York mayor and failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani told the crowd.


Web extra: Check out our slideshow for more photos of this year's big event.

Yet Forte, the Get Motivated! Seminars vice president, stresses that their product is simply a day of "refreshing inspiration...things people can take home to make their business and professional lives more successful," not a prescription for a magically transformed life in the space of a day. That may be, but the speech and subsequent sales pitch by Phil Town, advertised as "America's No. 1 Investing Trainer," is filled with financial advice that sounds too good to be true.

Town, a Vietnam veteran and former river-rafting guide who says he became a multimillionaire after studying with one of Warren Buffett's business disciples, is tall and handsome, with the chiseled jaw line, broad smile and dimples of an Eddie Bauer model. He's also the author of Rule #1: The Simple Strategy for Successful Investing in Only 15 Minutes. Strutting the stage, he tells of the mentor who went on one of his rafting trips and invited him to La Jolla, California, to apprentice with him. At first Town resisted the idea since he didn't have any money to invest, but once it got cold in Flagstaff that fall, he took the bait. "I apprenticed with him for a year and got hooked," he says. "I went out on my own, and five years later, I was a millionaire."

The crux of his talk was the age-old American tenet of self-reliance—learning to invest so you don't have to depend on money managers. It was a particularly timely pitch, what with the collective rage toward bankers dispensing bonuses with bailout money. Town's PowerPoint presentation shows a photograph of a secretary he taught to invest and who went on to get—he claims—an annual 25 percent rate of return. "Everybody's out to tell you you can't do that," Town says, shaking his head as he paces the stage. "But the people who say that want to make money off investing yours." With pensions and retirement funds flagging or wiped out, he continues, people can no longer expect mutual funds with less than a 10 percent annual return to do the job. "What I'm trying to tell you is you're going to have to do something on your own."

Now he launches into an Internet investment tutorial, complete with the keys to identifying a stock worth holding for 10 years. "What used to take all week now takes a minute or two," he says, stressing that the Web is to investing what tractors were to farming.

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