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But Tamara Lowe, when asked about this later, says that while she believes being positive is better than being negative, Get Motivated! doesn't prescribe denial. "We don't think you should stick your head in the sand and ignore challenges," she says. "Our recommendation is to find the best option to solve those problems, not to gloss over them and say, 'I'm OK, you're OK.' We provide experts who have risen to high levels and can say, 'Here's what works in leadership, communication skills, relationships.'" She says she often hears from people who say attending one of the seminars changed their lives. "They say, 'This turned my marriage around, I got off drugs because of this, my business was failing and this helped me turn it around,'" she says. On the more dramatic side, she adds that in the past six weeks, four people have written on customer surveys that they were going to commit suicide and as a result of coming to the event changed their mind (in such cases, she says, the company contacts them and connects them with mental health services). "People go away encouraged and hopeful. We hear so much bad news; this is the counter-balance."
Yet Pradas also questions the wisdom of packing a seminar lineup with famous people. "Not everyone can be like Colin Powell or Terry Bradshaw," she says. "I think it's almost worse to have big-name people like that because you're never going to reach that level of success." Forte, of Get Motivated!, counters that the focus isn't the celebrity, but the principles that led to success. "I don't think many people are going to come to the event and start comparing themselves to Colin Powell," he says. "You can strive to be like him, though, to focus on the strategies they've used to become successful."
On stage after the Zig Ziglar video presentation, one of the event announcers leads the audience in applause. "The legendary Zig Ziglar!" she says. "The master of motivation!" Visible on the monitors, today's elderly Ziglar stands and leans on his daughter, smiling and looking a bit dazed.
The afternoon is coming to a close, and one of the last speakers is Rudy Giuliani. He focuses on three crucial qualities for any leader: having strong beliefs, being optimistic and cultivating courage. Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King Jr. both accomplished great things, he says, because they had strong beliefs and held fast to them, regardless of others' opinions. "They didn't do it by themselves," he said of defeating communism and segregation, "but without them, you wonder, would it have happened?"
He defines an optimist as someone who embraces problems and turns themselves into problem-solvers. "What if I came out and said, 'Things are bad, very bad, and they're only gonna get worse,'" he says, melodramatically putting his face in his hands. "There's no hope. Follow me!" He gets a laugh from the crowd. "People follow hope, they follow dreams, they follow the fulfillment of dreams. Being optimistic doesn't mean you'll accomplish every goal, but you'll certainly have a better chance." Remaining as positive as possible, he adds, helped him fight prostate cancer after his diagnosis. Optimism doesn't cure cancer, but research shows that a positive outlook makes treatment more effective, he says. "Like in life in general, it doesn't make success inevitable, but it does make it more likely."
Past 5 p.m., people wander toward the doors and spill out of the convention center onto the downtown streets. Many of them look exhausted and a little stupefied after nine hours of speeches and cheering and fist-pumping. When asked what they're taking away from the experience, some speak in generalizations, like one woman who says, "You just have a good feeling when you leave," while others say they've set new goals. Anabel Rosales, a 21-year-old student at North Lake College, says she now realizes why she's having to take algebra for the third time in order to pass. "One of the speakers said something about how if you're weak at something, you need to ask for help, and I wasn't doing that," she says. "It's a really competitive world right now, and [if] you're weak at something you have to reach out for support."
George White, an Arlington real estate agent who came looking for ways to jump-start slow business, is a little cynical about the whole thing. "It's obviously a sales pitch, with them selling their seminars and everything," he says. "Basically, it all comes down to, 'Get off your ass and do something!'" He laughs. So, does he think it works? "It can for a while, but it's up to the person," he says. He compares motivational speaking to the times the boss comes in and tells people to stop arriving at work late. "At first, people start gettin' in on time every day, but little by little, some people go back to being late. This is like that—what happens next is up to you."