By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
What does it take to get a roomful of high school students to cross their eyes, stick out their tongues, and dance to show tunes? An infectious sense of humor and a yellow paper necktie, apparently.
Acclaimed motivational speaker Chris Bowers, on a tour of a dozen Montana schools over 10 days, spoke to the entire Havre High School student body this morning. He came with his dancing shoes on and his yellow tie stapled to his shirt, and received a warm response and much laughter.
"I'm going to talk to you this morning about the power you have as a group of students," Bowers told the students, "but first I need to get you over a fear you have, which is looking stupid in front of other people."
After students all sang and danced to "Singing in the Rain," Bowers told them, "That right there is the stupidest you're ever gonna look, and it didn't kill you."
Later he told them, "Every single person in this room has been given strengths. The key to success is feeling good about your strengths, and improve your weaknesses, but don't beat yourself up about them."
Bowers talks to students across the country about self-confidence, the courage to take emotional risks and treating people positively, among other things - a conventional message, perhaps, but communicated by unconventional means including Bowers' discussion of movies, his dancing, and childhood memories of a moped-pulled skateboard disaster and a spiral notebook wire that unwittingly got stuck up a third-grade friend's nose.
"Don't pull the wire," Bowers advised the students, using the slogan to express the futility of using negativity and confrontation to deal with life's setbacks.
Bowers brings a serious message. "The overall message I give them is personal power," he said this morning before the hour-long presentation.
"I think that people in general, but kids especially, feel powerless a lot," he said.
Once the students were in the auditorium, Bowers seldom let that serious side show, illustrating emotional risk-taking, for example, with a riotous discussion of asking out members of the opposite sex.
"Is she gonna pull a big 'loser' sign out of her pocket and put it on your forehead?" Bowers asked. "Even if she says no, the worst possible outcome is that you are the same as you are now."
"I don't tell you guys this to make you date machines," he said, but "if you just put aside that fear of failure you're going to be more successful."
Bowers also confronted issues of putdowns and negativity among students.
He said that excluding others can cause them to feel bad about themselves for a very long time. "I don't think any of us are that mean. I just don't think you realize the power we have on the people around us."
"Think about if your school was always a positive place and never a negative place, if you never ripped on people. It can happen, if you choose to do it."
And in case anyone wonders about the paper tie, that had a lesson, too: Bowers' original yellow tie was stolen out of his car and could not be replaced - so he made one.
Student response after the show was positive.
"It's really funny," said junior Nikki Dibblee.
"It was an encouragement to be a better person and take risks in life," said senior Ashley Pattison.
Both students said they had seen Bowers speak in March at a state convention for business students.
Bowers was selected by the Student Congress to speak based on comments from other students from the high school.
"The thing I liked about this is that the speaker was selected by the kids, and they did a great job," said HHS Principal Jim Donovan after the presentation.
The District IV Human Resources Development Council sponsored the event with a grant from the Montana Jobs Training Program.
Bowers spoke to students from Havre Middle School and Chester and KG schools Tuesday. Today he will also speak to students in Chinook.
Bowers, who has a degree in political science from Ball State University, began speaking professionally in 1996.
Last year he started his own company, Bowers Success Development, and changed his focus from speaking to small groups of student leaders to entire student bodies at the high school and middle school levels.
Bowers said he spoke at 60 to 70 schools across the country last year, and that his goal for this year is 100.