The consultant: Mind over matter

You may have heard of Tony Robbins, a ‘Peak Performance Coach’, who’s also blagged his way into guest appearances in movie classics such as Shallow Hal.

One of his strategies is to get delegates to walk across hot coals, although at a recent event this left some of those attending nursing very blistered feet. Robbins isn’t alone in doing this; a number of major organisations have felt that this type of event is just what their staff need, although what staff actually ended up needing was medical attention.

Those who lead such groups state injuries won’t occur if people are in the right state of mind before completing the walk, a claim described by those of us with a measureable IQ as complete rubbish.

Should you care about the secret, it’s simply about choosing the right kind of coals, and understanding basic physics around energy conduction and transmission.

However, such activities remain popular with event organisers, who realise that, under the right circumstances, they can create powerful memories and are therefore more effective than simply having delegates hear from the latest motivational speaker. There’s a saying we use in training:
‘What I hear I forget, what I see I remember and what I do I understand’.

And occasionally, as part of my commitment to you, dear reader, I practise what I preach. Which is why, mid August, I was heading to the top of Toronto’s iconic CN (no relation) Tower. On my last visit I savoured a delightful lunch in the revolving restaurant. Not this time.

Looking like a reject from Guantanamo Bay, I and five other foolish travellers hurtled to a tiny glass room that looked appropriately like an execution chamber. There we were attached to our harnesses and led outside by Jenny, our far too enthusiastic guide. She insisted that,
since the Edge Walk, as it was named, had opened, only nine months earlier, more than 20,000 people had taken the plunge (no, Jenny, wrong word!) and just nine had chickened out. Well, number 10 was the lady behind me who decided that dangling in the fresh Canadian breeze, 1,168 feet above Toronto was not the best way to enjoy the city.

Now, I confess to not being a huge fan of heights, and on a guardrail free platform the width of a pavement the thought of suddenly remembering an urgent appointment and fleeing seemed like a sensible move. But with Jenny’s gentle coaching, I shuffled slowly to the edge of the tower for the Toronto Toe Shuffle. And five minutes later, fear conquered, I was leaning back into space and dangling above the city streets like I was born to do it. Yes, it’s amazing how 30 minutes and 150 metres can change you.
Certainly the risk is far lower than walking over hot coals in bare feet. Both these exercises adhere to the mind over matter approach of events; nothing to do with science, but everything to do with “yes, you can”. And I know which one I’d prefer.

– Richard John is an events industry trainer and consultant. This was first published in the October edition of CN. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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