MERCHANTS OF INSPIRATION The market for motivational speakers has never been better. Companies pay up to $20,000 a pop for the best of the pitchmen. And for the money they get . . . what?
By Jeremy Main REPORTER ASSOCIATE Barbara Hetzer

(FORTUNE Magazine) – ZIG ZIGLAR, slim and electric at 60, stalks back and forth before 100 or so members of the Chief Executive Officers Club in Chicago, his voice shifting from the gravelly exhortation of the carnival barker to the sugary notes of his native Yazoo City, Mississippi. Anecdotes, aphorisms, homilies, and platitudes pour out. His gestures and posture change rapidly. He speaks fast -- usually about 220 words a minute with, as he says, ''gusts up to 550.'' The jokes come regularly, not more than nine to 11 minutes apart because, he says, thanks to TV that's the limit of an American's attention span: Zig's wife, The Redhead, who believes a woman's place is in the shopping mall, has been elected to the ''Master Charge Hall of Fame.'' He speaks at the ''seventh- grade, third-month level so even a college professor can follow along.'' Meet the king of motivational speakers. ''I'm in the life-changing business,'' says Ziglar. ''What I do is fit people with new glasses -- not rose-colored glasses, but magnifying glasses.'' Just how he does that was not altogether clear from the speech in Chicago, except that some of his anecdotes had an uplifting message, like the one about the waiter who served dinner to four customers so expertly that they all left a note, along with a generous tip, saying why they thought he was so good. In a stage whisper, Ziglar says the waiter ran after the diners and with tears in his eyes said: ''I'll never forget tonight.'' There went one motivated waiter. For this kind of performance, Ziglar is already booked well into 1989 to appear before business groups, especially salespeople. For just over an hour's work in Chicago, he earned his customary $10,000 fee. Ziglar also proved just how well he himself can sell by concluding with a pitch for a package of motivational books and tapes, available on the way out for $199.95 a set. After hearing his customary sign-off, ''See you at the top,'' the Chicago chief executives bought about 35 sets -- another $7,000 in revenue. The evangelists of inspiration are selling uplift as they never have before. The market for motivational speakers is no more measurable than the effectiveness of their work, but there is little doubt it has exploded in the 1980s. People like Ziglar find their revenues growing by 20% or more a year. The National Speakers Association reports that in the last decade its membership has grown from 1,000 to 2,800; 40 more professional speakers, mostly living off fees from business groups, join every month. The most popular speakers include best-selling authors such as Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence) and Ken Blanchard (The One-Minute Manager), athletes such as Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton, and the living proof of the power of positive thinking, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, who at 89 still travels and speaks with the sprightliness of a man half his age. Motivation is well paid. Speakers as famous as Peters earn up to $20,000 for a single appearance. The people who buy this stuff still basically want Peale's old power-of- positive-thinking message, but the 1980s have added some new urgencies. Companies want to spur their workers on to greater productivity and improved quality. With faddish talk about changing corporate cultures persisting, some speakers stress the need to think in new ways. So Ford and GM, AT&T and IBM, Du Pont, General Foods, Scott Paper, and many other companies call in one or more of the pop preachers. Sometimes they put in a quick appearance to put some zing into a sales meeting. Sometimes corporate headquarters make their speeches and materials part of a company-wide training program. Larry Marsh, director of dealer development for the Coleman Co., makers of sports and outdoor equipment, says it may have been coincidence but when they first used Ziglar four years ago, sales hit a record. ''It's an uplifting experience,'' says Marsh. ''You come out of there about three feet off the ground. You're supercharged and motivated.'' So eager are companies to buy the latest in motivation that some are reaching out for what Training, a personnel magazine, describes as the ''woo- woo'' approach (as in the sound of a passing train's whistle). Woo-woo instruction comes under the general rubric of New Age philosophy and can involve meditation, visualization, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, and much else that is mystical and Oriental. On a scale of one to ten, a half-hour instructional course on how to fill out time cards would rate a woo-woo score of one (assuming everyone in the class kept his clothes on), writes Training's Jack Gordon, but a course in self-examination requiring participants to lie naked on a mat and listen to sitar music would score ten. THE DEMAND for motivational training has even revived one of the historical woo-woo figures, Werner Erhard, who became famous in the 1970s as the creator of est. You remember est, a kind of mild group torture whereby people were held prisoner in hotel meeting rooms, told that they could go to the bathroom only at appointed times, and bullied into revealing truths about themselves. Erhard, together with James C. Selman, a former Touche Ross partner, established Transformational Technologies Inc. in 1984 specifically to build a corporate clientele. The former guru keeps his distance, leaving the firm's management to Selman, who says its techniques for helping companies change are influenced by est but are based more on the ideas of mainline management thinkers such as Peter Drucker. With clients like Ford, GM, and General Foods, business is booming. Selman expects to gross $30 million this year, up 50% from last year. A sampler of the more traditional motivators might include: -- Zig Ziglar is the classic pitchman who has turned his silver tongue into a profitable business. Company phone operators in Carrollton, Texas, answer the phone with an invariably chirpy, ''Good morning, it's a great day at Zig Ziglar's.'' He owns 99.5% of the company, which organizes his 100 or so appearances a year, plus six three-day seminars in Dallas, and distributes his books and tapes. To the extent that his spiel follows any coherent line of reasoning, ''Zigmanship'' seems to involve finding good things rather than bad things to say about others, and otherwise behaving like any hardworking, family-loving, God-fearing, flag-waving American. Ziglar started out as a cookware salesman, worked for the Dale Carnegie Institute, and started his company in 1970. He wears a tie-pin and cuff links of gold and diamonds shaped in the form of an arrow, a symbol he has adopted from his book, See You at the Top, which has sold one million copies. A deacon of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, he also wears a gold lapel pin in the shape of a fish, a symbol of Christianity, with a superimposed number 7, ''as a reminder that the seven days of the week all belong to the Lord.'' He has appeared before groups from such companies as IBM, J.C. Penney, and Pacific Bell. -- Denis E. Waitley, 54, with silver hair and a classic Roman profile, cuts a fine figure on the stage -- even in his acrylic suits, which he says are the only clothes that keep you unrumpled when you travel four days a week, as he has for ten years. Waitley often appears with Ziglar but has a quieter, softer style and a self-deprecating sense of humor. For example, he can refer to himself as a snake-oil salesman. He preaches the importance of basic virtues in business -- integrity, action, goal setting, positive thinking. Among his corporate listeners: some Bell companies, Mutual of New York, Shearson Lehman, BankAmerica, and Upjohn. An Annapolis graduate, Waitley says he spent his early years as a ''Navy chauvinistic pig pilot'' who roared around town in a Porsche. His faith in authoritarian management was shaken when he tried to force his 9-month-old daughter to eat her squash. The squash ended up all over his flight suit. Partly as a result, he argues that fear never works as a management tool. Waitley left the Navy to work as a fund raiser for the Salk Institute, earned a Ph.D. in human behavior in 1970, served on the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sports Medicine Council, and learned how to charge up an audience. Like Ziglar, Waitley has written a best-seller, Seeds of Greatness, and he markets a series of cassettes titled The Psychology of Winning. His fee ranges from $6,000 for an hour to $8,000 for a day. Operating out of San Diego, he also gives an average of two seminars a month to audiences of about 1,000 at $35 a head. -- Louis Tice, 51, a totally accomplished speaker, has a wonderfully expressive face, hands that dance through well-rehearsed gestures, and a soothing voice that holds his audience rapt. From headquarters on Seattle's refurbished waterfront, he and his wife run the Pacific Institute, an enterprise built around his teachings whose sales have increased from 30% to 70% a year in the last decade. All together, his fees from talks, seminars, and conferences along with the sales of his books and audio and video tapes probably will amount to something close to $20 million this year. Tice forged his motivational skills through years as a high school teacher and football coach. His constant exhortation is for listeners to rid themselves of ''scotomas,'' which literally mean blind spots, but which he uses to mean the mental blind spots that prevent people from seeing things in new and different ways. Tice charges $8,000 an appearance ($10,000 on weekends) and $15,000 for a set of videocassettes for use in corporate training programs. The price includes a few days' instruction for the corporate ''facilitator'' who learns how to teach the material at his company. Tice says there are now 12,000 Tice-trained facilitators around the world. Clients have included the U.S. armed forces, IBM, ABC-TV in Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Times. -- Charles Krone, 58, a Procter & Gamble veteran and also a former Navy flier, has little of the polish of the others, but intellectually is the most difficult and challenging, if not downright impenetrable. At 6-foot-6 and 246 lbs., he is also the most imposing. Rather than perform himself, he gets the participants in his seminars to perform -- to talk about civilization, values, how they communicate. At first his seminars can be baffling, even enraging, but they seem to grow on the customers. Some Du Pont divisions have been using him for ten years. He has a running series of seminars in such cities as Carmel, California, and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania -- two days in each city once every eight weeks or so. KRONE HASN'T MERCHANDISED himself as heavily as the other motivators. He does not sell tapes, because he feels his seminars need his presence. He hasn't tried to write any best-sellers, which is perhaps just as well, because his written sentences come out like this: ''I would like to explore the relationship of both structural intelligence and associative intelligence to a framework depicting progressive levels of thought related to value-adding processes.'' He says he wants to change the way companies work so that instead of simply acting on orders, employees will think and decide for themselves, as well as see the importance of their work to the success of the company. Usually sharing the stage with him is Kathryn Poling, daughter of the president of Ford Motor Co. and a virtuosa at writing on huge pads of paper a rapid and accurate running summary of the discussion, in letters large enough to be legible to all in the audience. Although he hasn't built a big business, Krone does not want you to think he is hurting. At $400 per head, his two-day seminars for several score of people at a time allow him to live in Carmel Highlands, California, in a house overlooking the Pacific. -- Tom Peters, 44, the most celebrated, dynamic, and expensive of the speakers, delivers his message with passion -- gesticulating wildly, sweat dripping from his forehead, the blood rushing to his face, his voice so loud it is impossible not to hear. His message is simple: America's big corporations are terribly run and if they want to compete they will have to ''give the customer what he wants -- QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY.'' He makes about 250 appearances a year. Unlike the other speakers, who talk about life in the most general terms, Peters confines himself to speaking about business, using anecdotes drawn from the corporate world. Indeed, Peters finds himself uncomfortable being lumped together with other motivational speakers, whose work he regards as ''pure bullshit.'' He says that he sees no point in exhorting a worker to get motivated and then sending him back to the office to struggle through an 800-page manual on procedures. It's management that has to change. Around his success as an author and speaker, he has built the Tom Peters Group, a privately owned miniconglomerate that runs Skunk Camp, a seminar center; Skunkworks Inc., which arranges his speeches and appearances custom- tailored for specific corporations; and various publishing, audiovisual, and licensing operations. MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKERS are not universally admired. Professor Kenwyn Smith of the Wharton School of Business feels their use is a smoke screen designed to hide the failure of the people running the company to face up to real problems. Motorola's director of training, William Wiggenhorn, sees a danger in inspirational speeches that aren't backed up with tools and techniques and evidence of management commitment. ''People get tired of them,'' he says. Richard Watring, a personnel director at Budget Rent A Car in Chicago, levels a more serious charge against motivational speakers -- and, indeed, against any kind of training that attempts to alter a worker's consciousness: Such efforts, he maintains, are invasions of the employee's privacy and right to his own beliefs. Reginald Alev of the Cult Awareness Network, a Chicago organization that helps cult victims, reports an increasing number of complaints from people required by employers to take New Age training. ''American industry is so desperate to increase productivity it will do anything,'' he says. ''This is witchcraft in the nuclear age.'' The California Public Utilities Commission just finished a study of the effects of Krone-type training at Pacific Bell -- Krone's materials were used but he didn't participate himself. It concluded that the ''positive results are outweighed by negative effects,'' which included intimidation and fear, decreased productivity, and wasted time. Most critics wouldn't go that far. The consensus is that motivational training works best when it has a chance to sink in. The highly paid speaker , who makes a quick stop and then flies off to earn his next six-figure fee doesn't leave much of an impression. But if he or his disciples keep coming back year after year, then some change for the better can be detected. At Du Pont's factory in Seaford, Delaware, the biggest nylon plant in the world, employees ranging from hourly workers to plant manager Ben Waide credit Krone with helping them shed the old Du Pont mind-set, which dictated that workers do only what they are told, and install a new system whereby workers think and act for themselves. Jeff Donovan, a maintenance mechanic with 24 years' service at Seaford, says the way he used to be treated was an insult to his intelligence. Today, by comparison, he is authorized to order up to $2,000 in tools or parts without asking his supervisor. He can discuss problems directly with outside suppliers or company engineers. Other companies use the occasional motivational speaker as part of a more general effort to change. For example, General Foods brought Lou Tice in for a one-day seminar in May, but that was only a fraction of what the company is doing up and down the line to train and motivate its people. Top managers even get sent out on modified Outward Bound-type expeditions. Noel Tichy, a professor on leave from the University of Michigan to head up General Electric's efforts to develop managers, argues that in a huge organization like GE, motivational speeches and seminars are useless, or worse, unless accompanied by basic changes in the company structure, such as reducing the levels of management. Like other students of organizational change, he does not believe that the answer lies in any single lever. JERRY PORRAS, a professor at the Stanford University business school, agrees: ''Having a motivational speaker is worthwhile as part of a bigger process, but many organizations rely on them to do much more than that. It won't work.'' Mostly because the effect of inspirational speech, by itself, is just too transitory. Well, replies folksy old Zig Ziglar, the same could be said for baths and sermons -- they have only a short-term effect, but that's no reason to give up bathing and churchgoing. Maybe not. But you're going to have to do a lot more than go to one of Zig's seminars if you want to be seen at the top.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF JACOBSON -- ARCHIVE