Talk Good Now
Motivational speaking advice for George W. Bush.
Of course, there's another theory: It doesn't even matter if he's a good speaker, says Greenberg. He's a celebrity. "There's an inverse relationship between how famous you are and how good you need to be." Plus, he's got the best material in the world. "Even if he doesn't tell his stories that well," says Greenberg, "they're gonna be great stories."
Not everyone thinks motivational speaking is Bush's calling. "I think it's both a poor choice for him and a poor fit," says John Di Frances, who calls himself a "content speaker." (Content as in substance, not as in happy.) "They're looking for people who are super rah-rah cheerleader people. George W. Bush is not that." Indeed, motivational speaking conventions are usually more rock concert than fireside chat, with a heavy dose of infomercial. Bush could risk coming off not just un-presidential, but foolish. "It's a performance-based thing," says Di Frances. "If you don't have great stage skills, that's not the place for you. They're Barnum & Bailey stuff."
Whatever he says, agreement is near unanimous that he should not discuss current events. "He should stay away from politics," says Brown. "I think he has to elevate the conversation to who we should be as a people." Greenberg agrees: "He should stay out of the policy debate, given that we're still dealing with issues that were part of his presidency," like terrorism and a sagging economy. Save that stuff for 2020.
There was also consensus that Bush has the potential to be a great presenter. The question is whether arena-based motivational speaking—as opposed to, say, one-on-one discussions followed by a Q&A—is really his calling.
Speakers were split, however, on whether Bush should acknowledge his unpopularity. (His approval rating, which sank to 28 percent when he left office, has since risen to 33 percent.) "I think he needs to speak to that coming out," says Brown. Luckily for Bush, it should be a supportive audience. Fort Worth is Bush country, and business owners are Bush people. A friendly audience, a nonthreatening agenda, and a cast of luminaries to back him up: It sounds a lot like a presidential town hall, circa 2004. Maybe this is the perfect venue for Bush after all.
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Photograph of former President George W. Bush by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.