The guy leaning over the will-call desk is upset. He paid $199 to spend Tuesday with motivational guru Anthony Robbins yet others have better seats.
"How come I can't get into the VIP seats?" he demands.
Behind the desk, a smiling young man in wide suspenders, a starched dress shirt and a "Success Club International" badge calmly explains that if the gentleman had paid another $96, he'd be sitting up close, behind the blue stanchions with the VIPs.
"See," he tells him, "it's kind of like a concert."
A day with Tony Robbins _ crown prince of motivation and sales training _ is kind of like a rock concert. There's loud, brain-rattling music, a handsome hunk with a headset bouncing around the stage, and an enthusiastic audience clapping and dancing in the aisles.
It's also a lot like an old-time tent revival _ with a charismatic, rafter-raising preacher slapping his chest as he whips the faithful into a frenzy. Only this revival is in the cool and comfortable Tampa Convention Center.
Framed by two giant screens projecting his image, Robbins preens and prances. He is a tall, toned and tanned Elmer Gantry, cracking jokes, whispering wisdom and shouting "OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH YEEEEAAAAHHH" instead of "amen."
Like any good revival preacher, his best story is his own. Robbins confesses he was once a psychological sinner. Trapped by overeating and underachieving, he became a soap opera junkie.
Then, he tells how he lifted himself from hell _ a 400-square foot apartment in Venice, Calif. _ to heaven _ a castle on a hill over-looking the Pacific _ with just the power of his mind and body.
After sharing his own story, he reaches into the hearts and souls of his audience.
"Why are you here? Not just in this seminar room. Why are you on this planet?" Robbins whispers.
The only sound in the auditorium of the Tampa Convention Center is 3,200 pens scratching Robbins' question onto 3,200 pads.
He pauses. Flashes the Colgate smile. Then, a big hand thumps against a muscular chest.
"You're the only one who can change yourself. And you are your toughest sale," says Robbins, building again. "You've got to reach beyond where you are now."
He's pacing the stage, back arched, head up, arms outstretched.
"How many want to take this to another level?" Robbins shouts, his baritone a mix of grit and guile.
Three thousand arms shoot toward the ceiling. The music thunders _ "Get out of my dreams. Get into my car." Robbins dances and claps, then freezes for an instant at center stage.
He leans way back, then throws his arms out toward the audience.
The music stops on cue. The crowd is on its feet and shouting.
Chances are, Tampa Bay's real estate market suffered Tuesday. So did the car business. Not as many stocks were traded. Fewer herb, vitamin, skin care or water softener dealerships were sold.
That's because more than 3,000 of the bay area's most motivated salespeople spent Tuesday with Tony.
The gang from Keller Williams Realty in Tarpon Springs was out in force. Nine women, all in red outfits, arrived before 8 a.m. for good seats.
"We believe this works," said Sally O'Brien. "We want to be motivated so we can succeed in life."
SuzAnne Mabus displayed her name and her company logo on a big badge on her blouse.
"I'm the cheerleader for this group," she said. "We're here because this guy represents success. He doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk."
No doubt about that.
In the highly competitive world of sales training, peak performance and mass motivation, Robbins stands tall. And it's not just because he's 6-foot-7.
The 36-year-old son of a parking lot attendant, born Anthony John Mohorovick, Robbins has climbed from obscure promoter to internationally known speaker and sales trainer. His daylong seminars, his power weekends and his video and audio tape sales bring in more than $12-million a year. His audio series, Personal Power, has sold 24-million copies in five years.
Some of the famous folks who have sat at Robbins' training table include Andre Agassi, Wayne Gretzky, Quincy Jones and President Clinton.
One of the not-so-famous names, Pete Andrews, credits Robbins with turning his life around. Andrews was a volunteer doorman at Tuesday's seminar.
After training with Robbins, Andrews gave up wedding photography and a job at the telephone company for life as a Largo herbal entrepreneur.
"He helps keep your attitude positive," Andrews said of his mentor. "It's about deciding today is going to be the best day of your life."
He was obviously thinking success when he got dressed.
Beneath his dark Italian suit was a shirt the color of cash, with fine dark lines woven into it. His tie was a collage of $100 bills.
David Coke came to hear Robbins even though he spent a Power Weekend with him a few years ago. Coke, who sells cars in Pinellas County, participated in Robbins' trademark ritual that weekend _ the walk across hot coals _ and he did it with Robbins himself whispering encouragement in his ear.
"I didn't burn my feet," Coke recalled. "That's kind of a hallmark of Tony Robbins. He turns problems into challenges. He teaches you to focus on success."
Success is a strong lure in the 1990s. And it has been a path to riches for the trainers like Robbins, Zig Zigler, Stephen Covey and Susan Powter. The crowd at Tuesday's seminar: Mostly white. A mix of males and females, in the 30 to 50 age range. They came armed with enthusiasm, energy and cellular phones.
Kirk Knapp, who stages Robbins seminars around the country, explained the appeal: "People have it in their heads they can have more, do more and be more."
Robbins certainly can do more than just about anybody in the room. He hits the stage just before 9 a.m. and doesn't break until almost 1. Then, he's back at 3 p.m. and keeps going until almost 8.
Before the 1 p.m. break, he does what any good salesman should do _ pushes the product.
"How much does it cost?" he says, waving a package of his Unlimited Power cassettes. "I'll tell you, but first let me ask you _ how much have you lost in the last 10 years because you weren't in the right state (of mind) for a sales call?"
Outside after the morning session, people pass cards, shake hands and smile sincerely at each other. Cell phones are activated. Pagers checked.
"Stay in touch," says one man who hands over his card to a woman. "We'll do some great things together."
A circle of young men take turns slapping their chests. A couple walks by wearing T-shirts that read: "Fear into Power. The Firewalk Experience."
The gang in red from the Tarpon Springs real estate office makes a beeline for the bathrooms.
"I'm energized," says SuzAnne Mabus. "Seeing him is like taking a mega-dose of vitamins."