'Business is Supposed to be Fun'
Motivator Hal Becker has a cool job, urging people to laugh and be courteous
By HOLLY CUMMINGS
Staff Writer, The Corydon (Indiana) Democrat
When Hal Becker was 21 and on the way to becoming the number one producer in Xerox’s I 1,000- strong sales force, he heard his first motivational speaker.
He was hooked.
“I thought it was a really cool job.” Becker said last week. “I decided that was what I really wanted to do.”
Now, 23 years later, that’s exactly what Becker does - all over the world.
He has risen from being a top salesperson to one of the world’s top sales and customer service experts and author of two books. He travels the globe, makmg about 120 presentations a year, although he’s trying to cut down.
“The average speaker does about 60 seminar dates a year, but it’s too hard for me to say no,” Becker said.
He brought his dynamic delivery and humorous advice to Corydon last Thursday for a seminar sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County. Sarah Turpin, the chamber’s vice president of membership and public relations, said she had wanted Becker to come to Corydon after seeing him last October at a sales seminar for the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Turpin thought Becker would fit tight in with her efforts to provide better membership programs in Harrison County.
“I came back to my board of directors and said I want to do this because we need customer service training in this area,” Turpin sald.
The board supported her, and she booked him.
Becker teaches business owners to rely on customer service and the positive word-of-mouth advertising spread by satisfied customers. If people like how they are treated, he said, any business can spread without a sales pitch.
"The best companies don’t have to advertise.” he said. “Business is supposed to be fun. The best companies in the world have fun with their customers.
“If the customers are happy then businesses are happier.”
Becker said those happier businesses practice simple graces: treating customers or clients with respect, making others feel necessary, and, most importantly, just being nice.
“We’ve forgotten how to just be nice to people,” he said. “Wal-Mart is famous for great customer service. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a greeter, someone who smiles.”
Becker credits his family - Holly, 31, his wife of six months, and stepdaughter Nicole, 7 - with changing his perspective on things. While he once focused on a fast-track business life, he now focuses more on family.
“Both of them add a lot of balance in life,” he said.
Even though he wasn’t always too fond of children, he confessed that Nicole has “changed my life. Having her has made my life more fun.”
Being with her has allowed him to reconnect with his “child inside,” the one who finds fun in work.
"As adults, we forget how to play,” Becker said. “We forget how to be a kid.”
And, like a kid, he also admitted he suffers from having “the attention span of a mosquito. So, there are three things I want to get out of a seminar: I want time to fly by - l don’t want to have to look at my watch all the time. I want to be entertained. And I want to leave with things I can do immediately.”
He tailors his programs around those three tenets. To make time fly and keep his audience involved, he uses humor. He gets material from stand-up comics, and he especially admires Whoopi Goldberg, who, he said, “produces humor with a message in between.”
Becker also writes articles for magazines and newspapers, and some of his titles reflect his comic twist. “Life Is Like A Twinkie - Or It Should Be,” published in 1997 by Small Business News, holds nuggets of advice like “Be a kid; don’t lose that fun inside of you,” “At work, pretend you’re playing” and “Your attitude is everything. If you want to have fun, you will.”
Fun is not something that came easily to Becker. In 1983, shortly after he started a customer service telemarketing firm called “Direct Options,” he was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. He was 28.
Doctors gave him a 30-percent chance of survival. He suffered through surgery, eight months of treatments and an uncertain future.
His survival changed his outlook. It also resulted in the nonprofit Cancer Hotline of Cleveland, which he founded and now funds through the sales of two of his books, “Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time?” and “Lip Service.”
In 1990, Becker sold Direct Options to promote his books and audio and video tapes and become a motivational speaker. Since 1993, this aspect of his career has taken off. Despite his own advice, heworks between 70 and 80 hours a week.
“But I don’t consider it work - it’s fun,” Becker said. He quoted Mark Twain: “Your vocation should be your vacation.”
One hundred and forty-eight people turned out to hear Becker’s presentation last week.
“It was a great evening. People were amazed at how quickly the time went by,” Turpin said. “It was not what they expected because of the humor and the flow. People walked away with a lot of smiles. He got the point across.”