McFeely: Polished Manning mixes football and business

FMWF Chamber of Commerce 'Voices of Vision' speaker talks teamwork, hard work and other sports jargon to large crowd

Former NFL star Peyton Manning speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in Fargo on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Manning was the keynote speaker at the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce's annual "Voices of Vison" event. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Five of the 10 speakers in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce "Voices of Vision" series have been retired professional athletes, including three former NFL quarterbacks. If your boss rallies the office with talk of "calling audibles," "winning plays" and "being coachable" . . . well, now you know why.

Sports has long been used as a parallel for business. Buzzwords like teamwork, preparation and competition transfer between the worlds easily and, frankly, retired jocks are popular motivational speakers among the male-dominated business crowd that watches football on Sunday afternoons. Joe Theismann and Terry Bradshaw were previous Chamber speakers, telling stories about the good old days.

It was Peyton Manning's turn Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex on the North Dakota State University campus. The former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos star didn't disappoint the crowd of more than 2,000 — billed as the largest ever for a "Voices of Vision" event — mixing folksy self-deprecating humor into his polished by-the-script presentation during a slick 30-minute speech.

Manning has done this a time or 200 before, having become a famous pitchman for Nationwide Insurance and other massive brands like Nike, Buick, DirecTV, Gatorade and Papa John's. Forbes estimated Manning made $12 million a year in endorsements alone in the latter years of his playing career and increased it to $15 million a year following his retirement in 2015.

(Here's a Saturday Night Live skit Peyton Manning referenced during his speech in Fargo:)


If you've seen Manning in one of the dozens of television commercials he's made, or as host of Saturday Night Live or the ESPY Awards, you know he is a smooth speaker and above-average actor. Those skills were on display at the SHAC as he's smoothly transitioned from Hall of Fame athlete to sought-after business speaker.

Manning was really good — if a little boilerplate — and plenty entertaining. Let's put it this way: It was better to hear Manning tell funny stories about his high school football coach than to hear a whacked-out Rudy Giuliani fantasize about bombing Iran, as he did at the "Voices of Vision" event several years ago .

Manning even got the chance to audible, pausing his speech when a curtain set up near the stage crashed to the floor and workers scrambled to fix it.

"Omaha!" someone from the crowd yelled, cracking wise about a famous football audible call Manning used during his Broncos days.

"Yeah, Omaha," Manning chuckled in his Southern drawl.

There was no media accessibility to Manning before, during or after the event thanks to restrictions in his contract with The Chamber, an oddity for these types of functions, and the crowd was told before Manning took the stage that no audio or video recording of his speech was allowed. Even Manning's post-speech Q&A session with emcee Dan Michaels felt scripted and tightly controlled, with Michaels reading pre-approved questions off note cards on topics like teamwork, the importance of family and role models.


Not surprisingly, Manning turned each question from Michaels about football into a parable about business. When asked how he developed rapport with his wide receivers, Manning spun it into a discussion about the importance of communication and tailoring your message to different teammates (aka co-workers) because no two people are the same. When asked who his favorite teammate was, Manning declined to give one and instead said everybody in an organization (aka a business) is key to winning.

"The equipment manager on an NFL team is just as important as the star running back," Manning said. "I valued those relationships I had with the behind-the-scenes support staff."

(Here's a Nationwide Insurance commercial Peyton Manning did with country singer Brad Paisley:)

That was his way of saying that everyone in a business contributes to success, from the CEO to the grunt just hired out of college. Manning didn't explain the disparity in salary between the equally important equipment manager and star running back.

Manning weaved modesty and humor through most of his speech, which focused on his "Seven Go-To Plays" and leadership. He humbly told how he overcame setting the NFL rookie record for interceptions in a season, a dubious mark he still holds. He talked about being called unexpectedly off the sideline as a freshman at the University of Tennessee and being put in his place by a senior lineman who didn't believe Manning had earned the right to declare himself a team leader. And he talked about overcoming the adversity of a serious neck injury and adjusting his game in order to be successful when he knew his old ways wouldn't work anymore.

It was rah-rah stuff, easily applying lessons learned in the football world to the business world, and it worked for his audience.


"I couldn't out-throw other players. I certainly couldn't out-run other players. But I could always out-prepare other players," Manning said.

So if your boss tells you to stick your hand in a bucket of ice water to prepare for sub-zero working conditions, it's because that's what Manning did in the days leading up to cold-weather games.

Practice makes perfect, as evidenced by Manning's smooth speech to the chamber crowd.

Former NFL star Peyton Manning, right, and emcee Dan Michaels held a question-and-answer session at the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce's annual "Voices of Vision" event at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in Fargo on Nov. 5, 2019. Mike McFeely / The Forum

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
What To Read Next
Get Local