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November 19, 2009
What Lessons I Learned from Seeing Oprah

A couple years ago I saw that movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nickelson called Bucket List. I thought the movie had a weak script and was overhyped by good trailers, but I liked being reminded of the value of having bucket lists. And making sure, I knock off as many as possible things while I can.

I don’t have cancer. I’m not old by most standards and I have not seen a bus running me over in my crystal ball. I do believe, life is not a dress rehearsal and there is no guarantee for tomorrow.

I operate my life in goal achieving and list-driven fashion. For me, it helps keep my eye on the rewards and experiences I want and it also feels good to cross something off and say. “I did that”.

My bucket list is ambitious. It includes meeting some people I’ve not met yet, like Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs to owning a share in a professional sports team, to seeing Oprah and spending quality, fun time with my Mom who is 74. There’s a lot more to the list, but that’s for another blog post.

I look at my bucket list monthly. And I take decisive action to make things happen.

My Mom had never been to Chicago and wanted to go, and both of us had never been to the Oprah show. This seemed like a doable Bucket list adventure. So I mentally went through my network of pals to figure out how to get tickets. Bingo! One of my very good friends came through. FYI, without a connection for tickets, anyone can go to the Oprah site, http://www.oprah.com/audience and sign up for the lottery. I know this works because many of the people I met at the show got their tickets this way.

Chicago is a great city, especially in the fall. (The items and companies that I’m raving about have not paid me. I do recommend them based on my excellent experience).

Our trip was not long, but quality. As a card carrying, independent, modern girl, I highly recommend this method when traveling with all relatives.

We arrived Tues. AM. Mike from Diva Limousine Company, greeted us at the airport in a black town car. How cool was this? The Branding Diva® picked up in a DIVA mobile.

I loved all branded details and experience this company delivered too. The car had a discreet, elegant emblem that said DIVA. The driver was garbed in all black and sported a small lapel pin that also said DIVA. And the chilled beverages were all packaged in black and silver DIVA bottles.

He transported us to the James Hotel.  This boutique property celebrates luxury liberated. It is located in heart of all the action and is a very hip spot. The staff was incredible, friendly and helpful. The environment was eco meets chic and the chocolate-laced popcorn with cayenne pepper at the bar was to die for.

We fueled up for the day at Quartino, an excellent, urban Italian restaurant and wine bar a couple blocks from the hotel.

From there, since we didn’t have lots of time, we elected to take the 90-minute Chicago River and Lake architecture boat cruise, tour to see the city. This was fun, informative and gives your weary feet a nice rest.

Next was Millennium Park. This is a fascinating tribute to the ambitious plans for Chicago in the 21st Century. As an award-winning center for music, architecture, landscape design, and the arts, it is a modern-day, worth seeing landmark.

The day was capped off with a 4 star food experience at Sepia. Sepia is an old printer’s shop turned new American organic and local fare dinning hot spot.

We finished the day with comedy at Second City.  Second City is another Chicago landmark worth checking out. The theatre launched the careers of such comic greats as John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner. It’s inexpensive and 90 minutes of multi-generational laughs. Take your Mom; you’ll understand what I mean.

Wednesday was Oprah day.
We needed to be there at 10:30 for the second show that started at after 1 PM. In advance of the show, all guests received an email with rules, what to wear, what not to wear, and no gifts for Oprah or her staff etc. All to ensure a non-dramatic, art directed, uninterrupted, wonderful show experience.

We arrived at 10:30 and joined a line of other dedicated Oprah fans. A coffee cart was outside serving free beverages. You could feel an instant camaraderie with 300 strangers, 290 women and 10 brave men.

At 11 a kind staffer allowed around 50 guests to enter the security zone. There you are stripped of any possible weapons, or distractions like cell phones, pagers, reading material an even notepads. I’m sure from years of experience, the Harpo production team takes no chances of any guest misbehaving with uncontrolled, unpredictable objects. Your handbags are returned, so you can enter the show without missing an important fashion accessory, there’s just nothing in your bag. All your belongings are checked in, and return to you after the show.

From there you are escorted to the holding room. Within the hour this space was filled with your new 300 friends. You sign a release, stating general legal stuff and that should your sweet face appear on the show or in some promotion, you will not receive a talent check from Ms O. Your pen is returned.

The next two hours were a challenge to me. I’m not a big fan of small talk and I do get a little restless without something to read or do. This holding area had a couple large screen monitors showing old Oprah shows. However, there was no sound or I couldn’t hear it above the room roar of 300 excited fans.

It’s almost 1 and showtime countdown. The cattle supervisors, I mean audience members are moved to the studio. Any rule breakers wearing white or beige are shown a nosebleed seat. OK, there aren’t really nosebleed seats, but it’s not the front row.

The studio was “meat-locker freezing”. I remember this feeling whenever I’ve been a guest on TV shows. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe to prevent people from sleeping or to keep everyone’s makeup from melting off and prevent sweaty foreheads, who know it was cold.

Next the top producer enters the room with mic in hand. She welcomes everyone, reinstates a couple rules of behavior and conducts a soft due diligence on the crowd. I’ll bet to weed out any crazy people who showed up for their 15 minutes of fame and even likely removal or arrest. This seemed to last about 30 minutes. The producer also enlightens the audience to that day’s topic or guests. The day we were there it was about rebounding from tragedy and how your destiny is what you make of it.

The producer leaves, music and intro starts and Ms. O enters. Barefoot, holding some very, hot fashionista shoes, sporting jeans and bright sweater she find her place on the infamous couch. A hair and make-up person follows her, touch up her croif and power down the shine, its showtime! As Oprah gets positioned, she small talks with the audience on the some of the benefits of her life, someone else dresses you and fixes your hair. “Got to love that’, she laughs.

The show’s content was inspiring. It featured the daughter and husband of the Florida couple who were brutally slain in their home. The victims (get name and add link to news story) had over 10 special need children or which several were home at the time of the crime. The story was very sad, but the grown daughter and her husband were moving forward and keeping their promise to her parents, should anything every happen, we will take care of the family.

The other segments were equally as compelling. A young couple badly burned in a plane crash and how they chose to not feel like victims, but live everyday to the fullest and be grateful for what they have, their lives and family. And the closing story was about a man who ended up sitting next to a young girl on flight that was in route to take her to her next foster home. The timid young girl shared how she felt no one really loved her and she had no real family. After that encounter, and getting home to his family, the man tracked the young women down and now he and his family have adopted her. He and his wife were empty nesters and that one plane ride changed their lives and the young girl who sat next to him.

My blog today is not hard on business tips. But if your personal life is not on track, if you are not taking care of your bucket list, your business is probley impacted.

Here’s what I learned from my trip to see Oprah.

  • I was reminded that no matter how bad your past was (abuse, growing up poor, having a different skin color, being rejected) it has no affect on your destiny unless you still live in the past. Chose your story to live.
  • No dreams are too big. Not in our country. If you believe, you can achieve.
  • Spending time with your parents, whether you have had, or have challenges with them. Do it now, Or you may miss your chance.
  • With all relatives and friends, focus on what you appreciate in them and not what you don’t.
  • Treat yourself well. If you enjoy travel first class adventures, do it. If you like roughing it in the woods, go there. Don’t think about what you want, make it happen.
  • Being a force of good is powerful. Oprah has certainly earned her marks in this area. She inspires, teaches and has a voice. If Ms. O can do, so can all of us in our own way.

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Karen Post, aka The Branding Diva®, is an international branding expert, consultant, and speaker. She has been featured in a broad range of media outlets, including Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS's "The Early Show," The New York Times, The New York Post, NPR, Fast Company, and The Boston Globe. She is also the author of Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill) and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers' Minds (AMACOM).

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