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Mr. Smooth! Wannabe pickup artists go to boot camp

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.

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.

“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.

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.”

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