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The Tony Robbins road show rolls through T.O.

When the grim realities of post-undergrad "real life" hit me square between the eyes ten years ago, I did like many middle class twentysomething white boys and entered the church of Tony Robbins. Hey, we all need our messiahs, and being generally disinterested in Jesus and Superman (though the latter has subsequently changed), I went for the motivational speaker with the big voice and the even bigger hands.

Robbins coined the concept of "life coaching" about two clean decades before it became a corporate buzzword that hovers nimbus-like around my day-to-day office existence to this very day. And to leave my "too cool for this" street cred at the door for a minute, a lot of his techniques - from the now-antiquated Personal Power tape program - genuinely helped dig me out of a substantially difficult time in my life.

I'm not much for buzzwords and lingo, but good advice is good advice, and Robbins has plenty - along with an almost stunning quantity of enthusiasm. My interest in seeing Robbins speak in Toronto today was largely centered around getting a chance to evaluate whether the package I had bought so cleanly into ten years ago, was still all I had cracked it up to be.

I'm told that "The Power Within", while sounding uncannily like one of Robbins' many motivational books (Unlimited Power; Awaken the Giant Within), is actually a Canadian outfit that merely books Robbins into appearance tours across the country. Robbins appeared at the tail end of what turned out to be a very long day of varying value.

Like any good band, Robbins has a warm-up act. Or in this case, seven. "The Power Within" started at 8:30; Robbins himself took the stage just before five. The rest of the day was filled by various luminaries speaking on subjects like leadership, teamwork, and creativity. Some were great; others were awful.

They had the Pursuit of Happyness guy, and shoemaster Kenneth Cole, both of whom brought wit and dynamism to their tales of corporate and personal success. Former Team Canada captain Luc Robitaille was also surprisingly deft and engaging in his discussion of his experiences in front and behind the scenes of the Los Angeles Kings.

Unfortunately, they also had self-aggrandizing Batman producer Peter Guber, whose talk regarding the use of storytelling was essentially incomprehensible, and an Australian lunatic named Amanda Gore, who did her level best to make us all tell our seat-mates how much we loved them. (My seat-mate did not love me.) And in a truly startling (and unexpected) turn, the former president of Mexico, Victente Fox, attended with his wife, to talk about the anti-immigration wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

By the time these speakers were finally finished, the crowd wasn't so much warmed up, as near-catatonic. I have to say, however, that Robbins really did bring the goods. He took the stage for over two hours and proceeded to work the 6,000-strong crowd into a fever pitch. His manner wasn't greatly different from his tape programs, except with more energy and a lot more swearing.

The day served as a kind of pulsecheck point for me on the Robbins work that I did a decade ago. It was nice to see that a great deal of what I learned from him back in the day, seems to have been incorporated into my day-to-day life. It was also fairly reassuring to discover that Robbins really is the genuine article: he believes in what he says, he delivers what he commits to, and he does it with passion.

Robbins will be back in the city in 9 months for an intensive 3-day session, which will probably cost a far sight more than the already-steep two hundred bucks that got me in the door of the Convention Centre today. I think I'm okay with waiting another ten years to encounter Tony Robbins again... but I'm grateful for the opportunity to see the man in person, and walk the walk in his oversized shoes.


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