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By Elizabeth Chuck Reporter
TODAY contributor
updated 2/14/2011 10:35:47 AM ET 2011-02-14T15:35:47

Pickup artistry has come a long way from one-liners such as “Hey good lookin’, what’s cookin’?” And thanks to a recent three-day course called the Global Pickup Conference, aspiring smooth-talkers no longer have to resort to sleazy phrases when trying to attract a woman.

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The summit was held in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 28 to Jan. 30. As a parting gift, attendees received a 100-page manual on how to handle the “affection from EVERY direction” that they were promised they would receive. 

“There’s a thing called AMOG: Alpha Male of the Group,” said Paul, a 24-year-old who went to the conference. “It’s basically when you want to approach a woman, but there’s a guy there that’s being overly protective and kind of a douchebag. How do you assert dominance without being a douchebag yourself?”

Three hundred dollars later, Paul had learned how to avoid his dilemma from the conference speakers, seven dating gurus who describe themselves as “masters of attraction.”

“You immediately show respect to the alpha male of the group,” Paul said. (He and others who spoke to TODAYshow.com asked to be identified by first name only.) “If the guy is hard on you and you haven’t instigated anything, most of the time, the women will actually come to your defense.”

When Paul tried the tactic a couple of weeks ago in Miami, where he lives, it landed him a date.

“She was out with a guy that was her best friend, and he was under some instruction to keep guys away from dancing with her,” Paul said. “Instead of approaching her in a negative way, I approached him ... and bought both of them a drink.”

He’s been dating the woman ever since, and has planned an evening for her at the Florida Keys for Valentine’s Day.

The pickup conferences are more of a “self-improvement course for guys,” says organizer Sal Peer, and don’t cater to men who are only interested in racking up one-night stands. (Although, some admit, a few one-nighters along the way don’t hurt.) Peer — who goes by Speer and calls his teachings “The Speer Method” — said that 95 percent of the men at his last conference were there because they were “interested in finding the one.”

Four Global Pickup Conferences are held each year around the country.

“We’re in an era when singles are not only clamoring for dates, but they’re also unafraid to admit they need help when it comes to dating,” said LaToya Drake, a consumer adviser. Many who are looking for love online pay top dollar for ghostwriters to manage their profiles; paying for a pickup artist seminar fits in with consumer trends, Drake says.

Speer’s work was inspired by VH1’s “The Pickup Artist,” a reality TV show that aired in 2007 and 2008 in which socially awkward men learned how to approach women. But while the show encouraged conversation openers such as “Baby, you’re so sweet, you put Hershey’s outta business,” The Speer Method relies on substance — the substance of those he is grooming.

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“Every person has something to offer,” Speer said. “We teach a lot about self-confidence, self-worth, self-actualization, and then some psychology behind everything on social dynamics in general.”

Only about 10 percent of communication between a male and a female is through spoken word, Speer teaches; the rest is tone and body language.

After two days of classroom training on wooing women, Speer equips his students with a hidden camera and places them in the wild for a day. He watches as they try to secure phone numbers from women in bars, clubs and malls, and then he reviews the footage with them.

Dan, a 26-year-old from Sioux Falls, S.D., has been going to Global Pickup Conferences since 2007.

“My first kiss was with a girl who I drove home — and she just did it to be nice to me,” Dan said. That was when he was 17.

His first pickup conference was in Miami.

“The first night [after training], we played a game: Who can get the most girls in one night?” Dan said. “The first 45 minutes I’m watching these other guys get numbers back and forth and I’m in the corner crying with Speer. I’m the only person I know who has actually cried in a club!”

Determined to no longer be “the guy who was friends with girls but wasn’t able to get any as a girlfriend,” Dan kept going to conferences. He was one of about 65 men at the one held last month in Washington.

He plans to spend Valentine’s Day this year with a woman he’s known for three months.

“What’s probably going to happen is I’m going to take her back to my place and cook her dinner, and probably just relax and watch a movie with her,” he said.

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Paul attended his first pickup conference after ending an on-again, off-again long-term relationship.

“I went there under the assumption that they were going to teach you how to make women feel like they had a lower sense of self-esteem, but it was actually about making women feel more confident in themselves, and in turn, more confident in your situation,” he said. “It was almost more empowering for women than misogynistic.”

Mike, 30, is another protege who has enrolled in a yearlong one-on-one tutelage with Speer in addition to going to conferences. He started working with Speer after his wife cheated on him four months into their marriage.

It’s Speer’s confident, fun personality that makes him am enviable pickup artist, Mike said.

“When he gives you a hug, you get giddy and laugh — and I’m a guy,” Mike said. “When he does it to a girl, she melts.”

Mike’s all about getting a girl to melt — like hot fudge on a sundae, in traditional pickup artist terms.

“The best thing you can ever hear is ‘I’m not sleeping with you,’ because [that means] she’s thinking about it, and she wants to,” he said. “Old me would have been scared; new me hears that and is like, ‘She’s thinking about having sex with me already!’ ”

Mike isn’t entirely comfortable telling women about his training.

“The term ‘pickup artist’ is bad. Instantly, any woman who hears that is going to be like, ‘OK, you’re a deceiver, you’re saying things to seduce me,’ ” he said. “Speer is changing it to more of a lifestyle coach-type experience.”

Mike doesn’t have a date for Valentine’s Day, by choice.

“I’m probably going to go out alone on Valentine’s Day because there’s more chance that I’ll meet women and get phone numbers,” he said. “I will not turn that opportunity down.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: Crazy love: 9 extreme things people have done for romance

  • Image: Matchmaking mom Geri Brin with son Colby Brin

    Love is a many-splendored thing — and some people will do almost anything to find it. On a quest to connect with that special someone, men and women have rented billboard space, posted handwritten personal ads all over the place, sobbed on YouTube and allowed meddling family members to conduct exhaustive searches for them. One matchmaking mom started the site “Date My Single Kid” for her 31-year-old son; another family advertised their Jewish grandmother on eBay to help her find a husband.

    Just how crazy can it get? To find out, click on the word "next" at left, or click on "Show more items" and keep scrolling down.

  • Love can make you cry. And cry.

    Image: Kelly Summers crying on YouTube

    Oh, Internet. Somehow you keep getting us to give up more and more personal information about ourselves. To name just one of about 80 gazillion cases in point: The emotional saga of Kelly Summers.

    In April 2010, the Englishwoman learned that the man she loved had been keeping a gargantuan secret from her: He already had a longterm girlfriend.

    Summers was devastated. Sobbing, she turned to YouTube and began posting video diaries — 62 of them! — about her heartbreak and her efforts to recover. She gained a loyal following of 11,000 viewers — including her ex, who decided he wanted her back. “I watched each video and I couldn’t believe the devastation I left behind,” Keith Tallis, the ex, said after the fact. “I’d never seen such raw emotion, and it made me realize how much I loved her.” Ummm ... hooray?

    Related story: She bared heartache on YouTube (and got guy back)

    Related video: Woman takes tears to YouTube after breakup

  • Hey! Let's sell Mom!

    Image: Sandy Firth for sale on eBay

    James Doyan was worried about his mom, Sandi Firth. After going through a divorce in 2003, the 63-year-old grandmother of four just couldn’t meet the right man. She was lonely.

    So, the dutiful son decided to take charge of the situation by selling her (kind of) on eBay. Doyan posted a flattering photo of his mother alongside these words: “My Yiddishe Momma for Sale: Beautiful, Great Cook, Educated, Articulate, Family Focused, Caring, Priceless.” The starting price? One British pound. (Doyan and his mom live in England.) The ad went on to describe Firth as being in “used condition” but in “pretty good working order [with] no real defects or signs of wear and tear.” “She is stylish and loves to wear the latest fashions (sometimes forgetting her age),” Doyan added.

    At first Firth was stunned to be on eBay, but then she warmed to the idea. “My son is very innovative,” she told British newspaper the Daily Mail. “I have had some rotten times, and he has been through them with me.”

    Shortly after the ad went up in June 2010, eBay pulled it because it violated the auction site’s “human remains and body parts policy.” Sorry, Sandi!

  • Pedal to the meddle

    Image: Matchmaking mom Geri Brin with son Colby Brin

    Devoted mother Geri Brin adores her son Colby, who lives in New York and is in his early 30s. In an effort to help him meet his perfect match, she launched a new online effort in July 2010 with the cringe-worthy title “Date My Single Kid.” But Brin didn’t do this just for her own boy — she opened the site up so parents everywhere could extol the virtues of their single sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, nieces and nephews.

    Brin and her son humorously defended “Date My Single Kid” on TODAY. “I don’t think it’s meddling at all; I think it’s casting a wider net,” Brin said on the show. And son Colby said he appreciated his mom’s support: “I don’t think I need my mom; I’m also out there in the field doing my own work. But if my mom comes across someone she thinks would be good for me, there’s nothing to lose.”

    Since fame visited the mom-and-son pair, Colby has been directing the Date My Single Kid site and blogging there. One particularly hilarious blog post highlighted 12 celebrities who really could use love advice from their moms. “As Director of Date My Single Kid, I like to say that you may know what you want, but your mother knows what you need,” he wrote. “Of course, I would never say it in front of my own mother because she’d be way too satisfied.”

    Related story: Cyber-matchmaking mom fields dates for son on TODAY

    Related video: Matchmaker mom: I'm not meddling

  • A shared moment on a No. 5 train

    Image: Sketch on Patrick Moberg's website nygirlofmydreams.com

    Nora Ephron, are you reading this? If ever there was a potential plot for a romantic comedy on the big screen, here it is:

    Patrick Moberg was 21 years old when he saw the “girl of his dreams” on a New York subway train in November 2007. She was wearing blue gym shorts over blue tights, and she had rosy cheeks and a red flower in her hair. Moberg said the pair “shared a moment.” “There’s been a ton of pretty girls I’ve seen on the train, but I just couldn’t shake this one,” he told the New York Post.

    So, he dashed home and built an Internet page — nygirlofmydreams.com — and set about trying to find her. He drew and posted a sketch of the two of them, describing in detail what each of them was wearing when they locked eyes. (He took the added step of writing, “Not insane” on the sketch and pointing to his head with a little arrow.)

    And ... guess what? He found her! He provided this update on the website: “Seriously! A friend of hers came across the site, recognized the description, and sent me an e-mail. We’ve been put in touch with one another and we’ll see what happens. ... In our best interest, there will be no more updates to this website. Unlike all the romantic comedies and bad pop songs, you’ll have to make up your own ending for this.”

  • Kingship schmingship

    Image: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
    Getty Images

    Was it reckless? Romantic? Both? Even though 75 long years have passed, the world continues to be fascinated by the love story of Britain’s King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson. The King sparked a constitutional crisis when he fell madly in love with Simpson, a two-time divorcée, and wanted to marry her.

    The prime ministers of the United Kingdom, church leaders and others roundly opposed the move. Edward ultimately abdicated the throne so he could marry Simpson. In a broadcast to the nation in December 1936, after spending just 325 days as monarch, he said, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

    The pair married in May 1937 and became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They remained together until Edward’s death in 1972; Simpson died in 1986. Their story is being turned into a movie, “W.E.,” directed by Madonna.

    Related story: Duchess of Windsor’s jewels sell for $12.5 million

  • This crazy love thing isn't new

    Image: King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn
    Getty Images

    There’s so much to say about England’s King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. For the purposes of this feature, let’s focus on this: The pair’s relationship represents one of the most extreme love stories in history.

    King Henry first became enamored of Anne in the 1520s, and he pursued her for years. He desperately wanted to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and be with Anne instead. The Pope refused to let that happen — and then, hoo-boy. Henry assumed the role of Supreme Head of the Church of England, married Anne, had his marriage to Catherine annulled and got excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Happens all the time, right?

    Henry and Anne got married in January 1533, and Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, the future queen of England, that September. Henry was disappointed that Elizabeth wasn’t a boy, but he remained hopeful that Anne would give him a male heir to the throne. Instead, Anne experienced devastating miscarriages and stillbirths. One stillborn baby was a boy; when that detail came to light, King Henry reportedly cried out, “I see God will not give me male children!” He began showing interest in Jane Seymour, Anne’s maid of honor.

    Then, as further evidence that love (in this case, love of Jane!) can make a man do crazy things, Henry easily believed trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason against Anne to be true. He had her beheaded in 1536.


  • Handwritten personal ads: Quaint, or ...?

    Image: One of Malik Turner's handwritten personal ads

    Really, is it necessary to spend good money on personal ads? Malik Turner will tell you no. Last October, the Harlem man posted elaborately specific — and handwritten — personal ads at payphones around Manhattan.

    Turner — who was 40 and living with his mom at the time — described himself with great precision in the ads: single, a “sorter/bagger” for a package delivery company, a Rangers and Jets fan, and a person who loves movies, nightclubs, Coney Island, Atlantic City and the color red.

    He was equally precise about what he was seeking: a blonde, long-haired, "big-chested, curvy, leggy, voluptuous (NOT FAT)" woman — or women — between the ages of 21 and 45 who would be "willing to take turns paying on dates (NO GOLDDIGGERS!!!!!)."

    "I just want casual and promiscuous because I don't want anything serious," Turner told The New York Post.

  • Looking for love on a large scale

    Image: John D. Smith's billboard in Orlando

    A feature like this simply wouldn’t be complete without at least one searching-for-romance-via-billboard story. Here’s a gem, selected because of the love-seeker’s gutsy move to let the markets decide:

    In 2009, John D. Smith — a self-described entrepreneur and inventor from Orlando, Fla. — invested in some prominent billboard space right off Interstate 4. Along with a photo of Smith and an image of an elegant red rose, the billboard carried this incredibly direct message: “There Are $1,000 Reasons To ... helpjohnfindlove.com” (Sadly, the website is defunct now, so don’t bother.)

    That reference to $1,000 was sure to be an eye-catcher, right? What might it mean? Well, Smith’s idea was to solicit dates over a period of several months, then zero in on “serious” prospects who seemed worthy of being dated exclusively for seven weeks. He would post photos and bios of the top female contenders on his website and allow visitors to vote on them.

    And then, as WKMG-TV’s website ClickOrlando.com reported, “The person who referred the winning woman [would] get $1,000 in singles, ‘to commemorate John’s former single status.’ ”

  • A parting gift

    Image: YaVaughnie Wilkins and Charles E. Phillips on billboard

    OK, OK, here’s one more billboard story for you:

    Early last year, enormous signs with romantic images of a canoodling couple began popping up in San Francisco, Atlanta and Times Square in New York City. These billboards bore the words, “You are my soulmate forever! —cep” and included a link to the website charlesphillipsandyavaughniewilkins.com.

    Alas, like helpjohnfindlove.com, that website is no longer functioning, but multiple media outlets reported on its contents when it launched: The site featured more of the couple’s romantic photos and love notes dating back to 2001.

    Turns out, though, that the “cep” on the billboards stood for Charles E. Phillips, who at the time was president of software company Oracle and a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And he was married. To a woman named Karen — not to YaVaughnie Wilkins, the woman with him on the billboards.

    Phillips later acknowledged having an eight-and-a-half year relationship with Wilkins, who clearly lost it when Phillips decided to reconcile with his wife. Indeed, Wilkins was so upset that she masterminded this heaping dish of ice-cold revenge for Phillips.

    He has since stepped down from Oracle and from Morgan Stanley’s board of directors. He’s doing just fine, though: Shortly after leaving Oracle, he landed a job as chief executive officer of business software maker Infor in Atlanta.


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