Calabasas Motivational Artist Paints a Picture of Hope

  By John Loesing
  Acorn Staff Writer

Michael J. Herman might not have the big voice box and Hollywood good looks of most people in his profession, but he does have that special something-that intangible- that makes him one of the busiest motivational speakers on the circuit today.

People believe in him.

The 35-year-old Calabasas resident will tell funny stories and give inspirational speeches to more than 80 businesses and organizations this year. With frequent use of words like action, goals, visualization, his vernacular is not unlike the thousands of other speakers who travel the same circuit, boosting confidence and getting the most out of sales consultants and management leaders.

While many choose to make their living in the field, not all motivational speakers can be like Tony Robbins. Some have taken a different path to get where they are. And Herman is one of them.

Outwardly unimpressive-his press materials are disheveled - Herman still somehow manages to pull it off.

Some of his more well-heeled clients will pay $8,500 a session to hear the story of a kid who almost died, but came back to beat the odds.

When he was 5, Herman fell 12 feet from the rafters of his friend's garage and landed headfirst on the concrete below. The traumatic brain injury left him in a coma for three weeks and blind and paralyzed for the next two years.

When he speaks to his nationwide audiences today, Herman's story of recovery becomes a lesson in perseverance, a primer on how to overcome life's difficult challenges.

"Everybody said that once you're disabled, that's it, and I didn't accept that and found the other ways to succeed and the other ways to overcome the limitations," Herman said.

Still slurring his words and having trouble learning, Herman attended the special education program at Agoura High School. But trying to recover while being a teenager made things even harder, he discovered.

"The problem was that they didn't want to teach me, it's just that in the early '80s there weren't the kind of cognitive strategies that there are now. I had to find them myself," Herman said.

"For instance, instead of being able to read the book Huck Finn when I was in 10th grade, I had to read a harder book, David Copperfield, in order to learn how to read Huck Finn because I had to push myself harder than the other kids were pushing themselves."

Herman faced more setbacks in college. He couldn't keep up with his lectures and had to take some of them twice, but still graduated in three years because of his hard work and dedication.

Herman went on to become a successful writer and producer for television and film, working on such shows as "Doogie Howser, MD," "In Living Color" and "Revenge of the Nerds."

After the industry downsized in the early '90s, Herman picked himself up again and turned to a career motivational speaking. His client list includes corporate powerhouses such as Monsanto, Boeing, Amgen, Johnson & Johnson and American Express.

Whether it's a one-hour motivational speech or an all-day session, Herman usually begins with references to his past.

"It establishes me to the audience as an authority on whatever I'm talking about, whether it's obstacles or success or leadership or motivation or failure," he said.

"The fact that I've overcome what I have and I can tell people how I did it and that these tragedies can work for you, really resonates with audiences."

Herman's latest foray into the self-help arena includes a syndicated column "The Motivational Minute!" that reaches more than half a million readers daily. Booklets, audiotapes and videos on how to be a better, more productive person are sold regularly.

The A-type personality comes easily to Herman; his daily mantra, in fact, is "take action." Others can be taught to see the light, he said.

"The vast majority of people in this world will never go anywhere, will never do anything, and will never get anywhere close to their true potential simply because they do not act."

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