Motivator's walk same as his talk

S.L. speaker hobnobs with stars, lives once-in-a-lifetimes weekly

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Dan Clark must be stopped. He's having way too much fun for a guy who's just doing his job and earning a living.

He's played golf with Alice Cooper, Bill Murray, Vince Gill and Michael Bolton.

He's attended the baseball All-Star Game with future president George W. Bush.

He's spent an afternoon coaching the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders — three times, guys!

He's hung out with Willie Nelson and caddied for Billy Casper, and he once opened for Sting.

He was a house guest of Muhammad Ali, James Garner and Wayne Gretzky. Marvin Hamlisch has been in his home.

He attended the grand opening of Planet Hollywood in New Orleans with Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He's eaten breakfast with Jack Nicholson, lunch with Walter Cronkite, and dinner with, oh, let's see, Reggie Jackson, Julius Erving, Colin Powell, Charles Barkley, Emmitt Smith, Jane Russell, Ken Griffey Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Tom Selleck, Dick Clark, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Cal Ripken Jr., John McCain, Buzz Aldrin and Nancy Reagan.

He's had face time with Michael Jordan, Natalie Cole, Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson, Roger Staubach, Dana Carvey, Joe Montana, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Coretta Scott King, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Dick Butkus, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan.

He's shared the stage with Cheryl Tiegs, Kenny Loggins, David Crosby, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood.

He's been backstage with Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, George Burns, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Toby Keith.

He serves as a speech coach for Paula Abdul and Diamond Dallas Page, whom he considers to be one of his best friends.

Who is Dan Clark, you're wondering? Good question. We're getting there.

Clark is a motivational speaker who lives in Salt Lake City, where he attended high school and college. For 25 years he says he's delivered about 150 speeches a year around the country. Last year he spoke in all 50 states (but rarely Utah) and 21 countries. He says he has spoken to more than 3 1/2 million people, once addressing 45,000 of them in the Superdome.

He speaks to corporations, charities, schools, conventions, all of the military academies and soldiers abroad.

From 1991 to 1992 he delivered four speeches in Russia as a guest of the government. His speeches were aired live on TV to all 15 Russian independent states.

He was the keynote speaker at the U.N. World Congress in Hamburg, Germany.

In 2003, he addressed a meeting of four-star generals and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Air Force Academy.

Earlier this year, he delivered 23 speeches to more than 30,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, on 10 different bases plus the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier. He was transported around the country in a Blackhawk helicopter at 100 mph, 100 feet off the desert floor. He slept, ate and visited with the soldiers for two weeks.

A month later he served as the keynote speaker for the commanders conference in Germany, where he spoke to U.S. forces and NATO leaders. Afterward, he was whisked away in an F-16 to address soldiers in England.

Along the way, Clark has made a few friends in high and low places and pretty much lived a boy's life. He's flown with the Thunderbirds. He has flown in the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-4, C-130, KC-135, B-52 and T-38. He has flown twice the speed of sound. He has pulled nine G's in a jet, which is enough to suck the lips off your face.

He has raced NASCAR race cars.

He has slept in an igloo in Alaska in 60-below temperatures and raced dog sleds.

He has slept in Saddam Hussein's palace and delivered a speech in the palace ballroom.

He rode a Harley across the country with Willie Davidson, Harley's son, on the occasion of Harley Davidson's 100th birthday.

He has attended the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, Indianapolis 500, the Grammy's, the Russian Ballet, the Masters, U.S. Open and Kentucky Derby, where he was the keynote speaker for a gathering of VIPS and picked the winning horse.

"The joke around our house is that he's always saying, 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,' " says Clark's wife, Kelly. "And we say, 'Yeah, you have one of those every week.' "

Clark flies to Nashville every few weeks to spend a couple of days writing songs with some of country music's best songwriters. Did we mention he has a gold record? One of his pet phrases — "Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie" — inspired Michael Peterson to write a hit country song.

Clark has written 21 books and contributed to countless others. He has been the primary contributor to the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series, and the first "Chicken Soup" TV show consisted mostly of Clark's stories.

One of his stories was turned into a short film — "Puppies for Sale," starring the late Jack Lemmon — which won the Berlin Film Festival.

"In my next life, I want to be Dan Clark," says Kelly.

Don't we all.

"If there's something he wants to do, he makes it happen," Kelly continues. "I never quite know all the magic behind it. But he creates it. It doesn't just happen."

All of this because the man can talk. There is an entire public-speaking industry out there. Corporations, trade associations, schools and almost any organization you can think of hire speakers, either for entertainment or increased productivity or both at trade shows and conventions and other gatherings.

"It's a multimillion-dollar industry," says Tony Berardo, who is a booking agent and vice president of a speakers bureau called Leading Authorities. "It can feed a lot of people."

Clark, who was inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame this year, hooks audiences largely with stories, many of them of his own creation. His message is a positive-thinking, live-your-dream, passionate-living amalgam, but a big part of the product is Clark himself. Stephen Covey can send motivational speakers into corporate America to lecture on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but nobody else can be Dan Clark. What Clark is really selling is Clark, and it isn't cheap. His speaking fee: $15,000 per. (He does military and church functions gratis.)

"He's one of the most requested motivational speakers on the circuit," says Berardo. "He's unique. He's an athlete, a musician, a writer, and he is a master storyteller. He can work a crowd. Most (speakers) bring a canned program. He does it all, and he can tailor his message to the crowd. He's one of the best out there."

In another incarnation, Clark, who at 50 is a rangy, fit 6-foot-5, was an athlete, which is where his story really begins. He was a ski racer, golden-gloves boxer and motocross racer, and he competed for the East High School football, basketball, baseball and track teams. He won a scholarship to play football and baseball at the University of Utah, where he also found time to dabble in modeling and acting. (He had small, non-speaking parts in three TV movies.)

After serving a mission for his church, he started at defensive end as a sophomore in 1978. His athletic career came to an abrupt end the following year when a tackling drill left him with a cracked vertebra in his neck and a severed nerve in his right shoulder.

One eye drooped. His right side was numb and his right arm dangled at his side. For a few hours he couldn't even talk. His pro football aspirations were crushed. "I visited 16 doctors around the country, and they said the most I could hope for was a 10 percent recovery," recalls Clark. "I became a recluse, an emotional wreck. It was the loneliest time of my life. All my hopes and dreams were destroyed."

With fanatical dedication to his rehab — he once spent seven hours working in his room just to raise his hand above his shoulder — Clark recovered full function in a couple of years. (He still has numbness in his right leg and shoulder.) But the change in the direction of his life was permanent.

During Clark's rehab, he was asked by his coaches to speak to the Morgan High School football team. As Clark tells it, "I was feeling sorry for myself; the doctor had just told me I was not going to get better. I get to the school and I see that their coach, Jan Smith, has MS. I didn't feel as sorry for myself suddenly."

Impressed with Clark's message, Smith asked him to speak before the team's next seven games, and Morgan won the state title. "I started learning about the power of words and emotion," says Clark.

The football talks led to an invitation to speak to the entire Morgan student body, and then the Morgan principal spread the word and principals from other schools invited him to speak to their students.

"And my career was under way," says Clark. "There was a need for people to inspire others. I started getting in touch with my own emotions and what I believed in. I discovered there was more to life than lifting weights and running. You have to stop and ask the important questions. My injury forced me to do that. That's what a midlife crisis is. You realize you're not the guy you thought you were going to be. It's someone finally stopping to evaluate his life. I had my midlife crisis at 22."

Clark began speaking at dozens of schools while completing his degree in psychology. He eventually ended up getting funding to speak over the next two years to teens at every high school and junior high in Utah.

"I talked about the power of a dream and free enterprise and agency and ethics," he says. "I always made 'em laugh and cry. I tell 'em stories. I've always been a storyteller."

Clark caught a break — actually, he created one in his typical can-do style when he arranged a meeting with Zig Ziglar, the guru of motivational speakers. Clark had devoured Ziglar's tapes, and when Ziglar came to speak in Salt Lake City, Clark was determined to meet him. As soon as Ziglar was finished speaking, Clark raced to the front row of the bleachers and shouted, "Mr. Ziglar, you changed my life! May I buy you dinner!?" Ziglar paused, then replied, "I'm coming back in two weeks; call my office."

Clark picked up Ziglar at the airport two weeks later and took him to the Hotel Utah, where he had set up a presentation in a room he had rented. Ziglar was so impressed that he arranged to fly Clark to Dallas to make another presentation. He passed the test again and was sent to Atlanta, where he spoke to a teen leadership conference.

After that, he was off and running. Between his Utah and national commitments, he was speaking to three or four schools a day, five days a week, every week during the 180 days of school, for two years. In 1983, he began to work strictly on the national high school and college circuit.

"I invented the high school motivational assembly," says Clark.

Clark's anti-drug message won him an invitation to a White House meeting with first lady Nancy Reagan. He took her "Just Say No" campaign to colleges and high schools. Eventually, his message evolved into time management and positive choices and making dreams happen.

"I realized that 'Just Say No' was obsolete," he says. "You can't coach results, only behavior. Instead of worrying about how to say no, say yes to something positive, and you won't have time to do drugs, etc. It became a positive-choices program. Why did I come back from my injury? I dreamed a dream. I surrounded myself with people who are positive."

In 1990, after having spoken to millions of high school and college students, he made a transition to the corporate arena — "He's funny, he's inspirational, he's Dan Clark — changing the world one story at a time," Larry King is quoted as saying in Clark's promotional pamphlet. In the corporate field, Clark has addressed Honeywell, the NFL, NASA, Macy's, Office Depot, Harley Davidson, Delta Air Lines, IBM, AT&T, Kodak, Frito Lay, Marriott, Bank of America.

"The phone keeps ringing, so I must be doing something right," he says.

Over the years, as he rubbed shoulders with the famous and successful, he has mined their brains for stories and inspiration and clues to success.

Over the years, Clark has used his connections to adventure into other arenas. He has collaborated on country songwriting projects with Monty Powell (a songwriter for Urban and Tim McGraw), Larry Henley (who wrote "Wind Beneath My Wings"), and Mike Reid (who wrote "I Can't make You Love Me" for Bonnie Raitt), which haven't been recorded yet. A self-taught musician, Clark plays piano and guitar. He says he has written about 400 songs and self-recorded about 30 of them.

He also has turned the stories he uses in his speeches into books. He self-publishes most of them. He sold 100,000 copies of "Puppies for Sale" at his speaking engagements. He took 250 of his stories, boiled each of them down to 24 lines, and published them as a book called "One Minute Messages."

"I would take them on an airplane," says Clark, "and I'd find the most talkative, outgoing flight attendant, show her the book, and tell her, 'I wrote this. Read these pages and tell me what you think.' She'd come back a few minutes later crying. Then she'd have the other flight attendants read it. I'd tell her, 'I'll give this to you if you promise to go online and buy your own copy and give it to someone.' "

Clark sold more than 150,000 copies of the book.

As Clark tells it, he subsequently received a phone call from editors Mark Hansen and Jack Canfield who said they were assembling a collection of stories they were going to call "Chicken Soup for the Soul." What they wanted to know was how he marketed his one-minute messages. "Give it away," he told them. It took 18 months to sell the first million. The series of books has now sold about 90 million. Clark's stories appeared in the first 12 volumes.

Clark's stories are a mixture of his own and others' experiences, or purely fictional, designed to illustrate a principle. "I speak to so many groups, and the second we bring up religion we alienate a certain number of people," he explains. "I talk about true principles. People can call it religion if they want. That's how I write my stories. I look for a true principle and then look for a story that illustrates that — honesty, integrity, etc. I am deeply religious, but I create my own parables."

If your idea of the motivational speaker is the caricature produced by the late Chris Farley — living in a trailer down by the river, eating government cheese — you've got it all wrong. Clark lives with Kelly and their four children in a large home in Salt Lake City with marble floors, enough sports memorabilia to open a Hall of Fame, seven guitars, a white grand piano (signed by Hamlisch) and a recording studio downstairs.

The walls of his basement are covered by hundreds of framed autographed photos of Clark schmoozing with celebrities. For a photo to qualify for the "Wall of Fame," as he calls it, Clark has to have spent time with them. Good luck trying to name someone famous who isn't pictured there.

"We've traveled all over the world," says Kelly, "and it doesn't matter where we are, every time someone will walk up and say, 'Hey, Dan!'"

The Clarks have four children. Danny, 20, is serving a mission for his church in Panama. Nikola, 17, is the reigning Miss Teen Utah International. McCall, 14, is the head cheerleader at her junior high and has signed a record deal as a singer. (She has recorded three CDs and has performed with or opened for Aaron Carter, Jessica Simpson, Gladys Knight, Michael Bolton and Donny Osmond and sings the national anthem occasionally at Jazz games when requested.) Alexandria, 13, is a former national-class Level 6 gymnast who has danced in the "Nutcracker" with Ballet West at the Capitol Theatre.

"Obviously, my message works," says Clark, "because I have four of the most amazing kids who ever lived. They love life, they understand work ethic and integrity and making people around them better."

Says Kelly, "The kids take their dad to school for show and tell. They think he's pretty great."

Clark himself is a happy, energetic sort who sleeps only a few hours each night (routinely going to bed between 2 and 4 a.m.). He has read one book a week for 12 years. He coaches the defensive line for the Skyline High football team, which won the state title last fall, and donates his time to speak to military and church groups and to children's charities.

"He is very high energy," says Kelly. "He's someone who really walks the walk; he's not just talking about things, he's living it — the whole mental motivation, positive attitude thing. He believes in humor. When things are tense or when something happens he can always bring out the bright side. He's just a wonderful, fun person. He keeps everybody going. Living with Dan Clark ..."

"It's always an adventure!" Nikola chimes in.

"He does everything with passion," Kelly continues. "And he's very kind-hearted."

He has been known to pay electrical bills for people in need and once bought a gravesite plot for someone who couldn't afford it. When he found out a Utah prep basketball team was going to be in North Carolina, he arranged for a meeting with Roy Williams, the Tar Heels' coach."He's just an all-around nice guy," says Berardo.

Clark will continue speaking for years to come, sharing what he views as the keys to happiness, achievement and success. "There's no doubt he has a gift," says Kelly. "I've heard him for 25 years and I still laugh."


E-mail: drob@desnews.com

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