Death of the Self Help Seminar

What a waste of bloody money that was!

It’s hard to put an actual figure on it (actually, all I’d have to do is check my bank account online, but I have the fear of God in me and an utter reluctance to confirm) but I’m thinking the whole little adventure cost me around four thousand of your lovely American Dollars.

Now, I’ve become less of a tight-arse in recent months, and so I can look at four hundred thousand American pennies and say, “no, that’s not a huge amount of money. It is perfectly reasonable for me to invest this amount in improving myself. I am lovely and marvelous and I deserve such treatment.

Yet four grand is what I’ve just splashed out on a whirlwind trip to Vegas for two, to attend a self-help seminar from one of the industry’s current leading thinkers.

(Note – this admittedly includes accommodation, food and several other totally-justified business expenses like playing slot machines and buying my girlfriend lots of just-about-there underwear from Victoria’s Secret. I’m working on the utterly feasible premise that I only brought this stuff as I was in Vegas, and I was only really in Vegas for the seminar, so therefore this can all come under one rather expensive self-help umbrella).

Anyway, for the sake of preventing any ill-will, I shan’t name the person who hosted this seminar, but rest assured that if you’re into your personal development you’ll more than likely know this guy.

I’m actually a little fond of him. His website helped me to build up the self-confidence to realize what I wanted to do with my life, and inspired me to quit my job too and set up my own website at Personal Development Planet.

Despite his recent somewhat strange posts of late I still had crazy love for this chap, and as such decided to fly to the other side of the world to share in his man-love. I was genuinely excited and intrigued to see what I could take away from three days in his company…

…And the answer to that turned out to be, not much.

And that’s not just me either. Out of around 100 attendees, I’d be surprised if even one of them experienced a significant and lasting change breakthrough over the course of three days.

Sure, there was loads of sharing and love and hugs and hyped-up talk of change, but very little in the way of change itself.

The three days ultimately seemed to be a convention for people who were saying “yes, I’d really LOVE to live like that… but unfortunately I have these special circumstances which means I can’t actually do it.

However, I’ve had a great three days where I’ve shared my fears with 100 other people too scared to take the plunge and thus I feel much better about myself because I’m not the only one who is a big scared wuss and who will just go back to life as usual.

This got me thinking, what exactly is the role of the self-help seminar in today’s connected world? What are they supposed to achieve? Is this possible or even feasible? Can people really change over the course of a few days?

Or, do we just accept that they can’t possibly work as advertised, and declare the death of the self-help seminar?

Self Help Seminars 101 – What Are They Supposed To Do?

Since my return and subsequent cost analysis (somewhere along the lines of “shit – what a waste of money that was”), I’ve been storming within my brain to try and work out what self-help seminars are actually supposed to achieve.

So, after (several) minutes of concentrated thinking, here are my conclusions. At its simplest level, I reckon a good seminar should at least give you breakthroughs in the following four areas:

1)   New information. Er… yeah, call me a renegade but I reckon you should learn something(s) new.

2)   Inspiration. The seminar should inspire you to do more than you’re doing now, and help you break down fears etc.

3)   Support network. The people you meet at these things are often more useful than the information you get. As such, there should be ample opportunity for networking with new people and becoming buddies and sharing the love, etc.

4)   Change. Er, you should actually experience some lasting change, a breakthrough, an “ah-ha” moment, a moment of clarity… or, ideally, you should “see the light” and make contact with God or at least a Deity of some kind. But, at the very least, you should make SOME changes. Otherwise it’s all talk and that’s just a bit crap.

At it’s most basic level, is there anything else a self-help seminar should achieve other than providing you with new information, giving you the inspiration to make changes, linking you with a network of similarly-minded people, and then helping you to make actual (and hopefully lasting) change?

I reckon not. In any case, even if there was more, the successful fulfillment of these four promises should be enough to keep even the hardest self-growth skeptic happy with their investment.

So… if all they have to do is fulfil four criterion, where are personal development gurus going wrong? Well, my Deloitte-style analysis based on the stonking three self-help seminars I have attended in my life is: typically, the problem tends to be with the “change” part of the equation.

In fact, the ones I’ve attended have all been awesome on the other three sides of my newly-patented “parallelogram for self-help seminar success” (has anyone ever pioneered a world famous parallelogram-based theory before?) –  they have been brilliant for providing me with new info, getting me motivated and introducing me to new peeps – yet have been universally crap at actually helping me change long-term. Motivation wears off when you leave the seminar. Change does not.

So – what’s going wrong?

Why Change Is Hard To Do At Self Help Seminars

It’s probably worth noting at this point that I’ve done a fair bit of NLP training, and these courses have been genuinely awesome at helping people to change in some rather marvelous and profound ways. I’ve seen long-term sufferers of anxiety become confident for the first time in years, phobias melt on the spot, and witnessed lots of alpha-male-types positively melting when they play with their values and belief systems.

I’ve never seen similar results at more general self-help seminars. Why is this? Is NLP just super-powerful or is there something else going on? Why is lasting change so hard to find? How many rhetorical questions can one man ask in an article?

Here’s some ideas I’ve come up with:

1)   Our self help guru has to keep lots of people happy and entertained.

This means that he has to be on stage, front-and-center, and must be seen to be “in charge” of the whole event. In my Vegas example, this meant approximately 50 minutes of guru-love for every ten minute of partner work. Yep, that’s 50 minutes of sitting in silence listening to another man speak, and five minutes per person to “explore yourself”, ask questions, come up with solutions, and make changes. No wonder changes were so few and far between.

2)   Our self help guru has an ego too.

As an extension of the first point, I unfortunately found out that our guru will often have a rather large ego too, which means lots of plugging their recent book, lots of talking in a “high and mighty” tone, and lots of just generally enjoying being on stage in front of 100 fans. As mentioned above, 50 minutes of self-love per hour may be good for the ego, but it’s not great for changing the people paying to hear the ego speak.

3)   Logic alone doesn’t cause change.

Finally, I’ve found that these kind of overhyped motivational events tend to work on the presumption that with enough logic and social proof people will just magically change. Drag a guy on stage, have 100 people encourage him to follow his dreams, have the guru tell him he’s special, prove to him that he has the resources to change… and he’ll change, right? Wrong!

He’ll feel motivated on stage, then he’ll feel a bit pathetic afterward, when he realizes that 100 people know he’s a big loser because he won’t take the plunge and live his dream life. Knowing that you can do something and having other people believe in you may help you feel super-fuzzy on the inside, but won’t necessarily help you to change.

Resistance to change is one the biggest problems we have, yet is woefully under-referenced at the seminars I’ve been to.

Dear oh dear. It’s all a bit doom and gloom, isn’t it? Is it really the death of the self help seminar?

Hope For The Future

I’m going to end this article with a glimmer of hope (I’d like to say it’s because I’m a natural optimist, but really I’d like to become filthy rich in the future from running the most awesome, high-change seminars you could ever imagine).

As such, my crystal-ball prediction: I reckon that self-development seminars will be around for a long time yet.

Why? Well, not all people who want to make changes are as educated and well organized as you, and they may have challenges reading even brilliant blogs like mine or Tim’s .I’ve even heard rumors about people who don’t like reading self-development books (gasp!) By the way, did you know you can gets Tims brilliant 5 * rated book Don’t Ask Stupid Questions for free, just by clicking here?

There may be some strange people amongst you who prefer to learn in person with other people. And there are some people who are just mugs and will spend money on any old crap, like me!

Whichever way you look at it, people will be paying gurus lots of money to make changes (they are unlikely to ever make) for some time yet.

So… how can we make seminars better? (And by better, I mean better for the poor fuckers who spend the money and travel round the world, not better for the guru who seems more concerned with how he is perceived than the actual content of his seminar.)

Well, here’s a couple of ideas. In the spirit of democracy, I’d love to hear what you reckon in the comments below too.

1)   Er… make change the core focus of the seminar.

Wow – groundbreaking stuff – but if the guru wanted to, he/she could feasibly combine enough powerful techniques to make change for the attendees a near-inevitability. I know enough NLP that can help most people to overcome some pretty serious mental blocks in a couple of days.

I reckon Tim has a whole host of super-powered stuff he could whip out too, and most of it doesn’t require a cauldron or any dark magic and Satan-love whatsoever. So, simply, the next time the guru sits down to plan a seminar, he should decide what results he wants his flock to get, and then plan a program around that. Simple, no?

2)   Teach attendees strategies for maintaining the changes.

This is kind of like a post-traumatic-change course – along the lines of “change can be really scary and hard to keep up, so let’s practice some stuff to keep you on the right path” – and then teach attendees things like visualizations, mastermind groups, support networks on blogs and forums etc.

At the minute, I get the impression that some gurus couldn’t give a shit about what happens to their students once the seminar has shut its doors, and they probably realize that most people will revert to type once they get back home. The guru needs to help mitigate for his students’ weaknesses and make lasting results his number one focus.

3)   Make the seminars have a 100% focus on the student. As a bit of a recurring theme here, I don’t think paying $4000 to hear a guy speak (at excruciating length) to one volunteer for 45 minutes, and then having 5 minutes to talk about my own challenges, is a good ratio.. I want to know when I sit down at the start of the three days that the whole seminar has been specifically designed to help ME to get the most out of it – and not just the guys who get picked to come up on stage.

So, is it really death of the self-help seminar? Well, whilst from my experience the industry seems to be on its last legs in terms of content, people will be paying money to attend these things for years and years to come. As such, it’s our job to demand more and make sure they improve. I’ve had enough of paying to hear a dude rabbit on about how wonderful his particular technique is. I want change and I want it now!

This leaves me to end with two questions:

1)   What do you want from a self-help seminar?

Have I struck a nerve or do you love them just the way they are? What can we do to encourage gurus to put on workshops that are for our benefit? What would you need to see / get to make your attendance worthwhile?

2)   Why on earth isn’t Tim doing them?

Surely, a guy who can help change even the most single-minded of people (er, yeah, I’ve done some coaching with him) could come up with some ideas to help a group of people change in one big happy go? What do you reckon – would you attend a Tim-run workshop? I would… just not for $4000. Anything under that and you’ve got your first attendee, mate.

Bio: Carl Harvey quit his job to run Personal Development Planet, before Tim made him realize that it’s a bit shit (Tims note: Don’t think that’s quite what I said!), so he is now focusing on making his uniquely irreverent and foul-mouthed rants shine through. No more Mister Friendly Motivator. Check it out as it’s not half bad and it’s going to be bloody brilliant soon and there’s not that much swearing yet if you’re easily offended, and if you are, what the hell are you doing here?