How to Grow Your Business through Guest Speaking with Gerry Morris

On Episode 78 of the Paper Planes Marketing Podcast Simon chats with Gerry Morris, General Manager at Book Speakers Direct.

Show Notes

A fully transparent platform for event organisers to book guest speakers for their next event. With a team of experienced event managers, guest speakers, speaker consultants and savvy IT experts, Book Speakers Direct can help with most requests.

You can contact Gerry Morris on LinkedIn.


Simon Dell: Welcome to the show today Gerry Morris, who is the General Manager at Book Speakers Direct. Thank you for joining us today.

Gerry Morris: Absolute pleasure to be here, Simon. Thanks for the invite.

Simon Dell: Now, given the GM, Gerry Morris, and the GM, General Manager at an organization called Book Speakers Direct, even the stupidest people who might be listening in to this could probably guess what that business does. But for the sake of them, why don’t you give us a quick explanation as to what your organization does?

Gerry Morris: Trust me on this one. I think sometimes I wanted to get the whiteboard out and just talk real slow and say “This is what we do. Direct….” Oh. And this is for some speakers who have been in the industry for years. But yeah, the whole GM thing is a play up because I suppose – I’m actually the founder of the company.

I wasn’t big on titles, so I’m GM because I’m Gerry Morris. That’s what we run with. But yeah, Book Speakers Direct, I’ve been in the speaking industry since 2001, more so as somebody who books the speakers, not the one that gets up on stage. So, I’ve been a speakers agent for 19 years. I’ve worked for the two big speaker bureaus, and I just thought it’s time for a change.

Everything was just done the exact same way. And I’ve seen a niche in the market, that speakers want to be booked direct more often, and set themselves on spending a big commission, losing a big commission. We launched in the beginning of June and we’re off to a flying start.

Simon Dell: Fantastic. Now, the other thing that I noticed, and I hate to break your heart here, but you are not the first ex-car salesman, second-hand car salesmen to appear on this. One of my good friends, Simon Bell, which is very confusing, who’s been on early episodes, does have a history selling second-hand cars. You’ve obviously got a big sales background.

Did you have any sort of sales background before you went into that second-hand car business?

Gerry Morris: No, I didn’t. I was a tradesman, an Irish artist as I like to call myself, a painter and decorator. I used to think that everybody else, all the tradesmen, all the smart ones would build houses and I’d make them look pretty at the end of it. But it is hilarious with the car sales background. I was definitely thrown in the deep end there, and very fortunate is that a lot of people would say, “Gerry, you don’t sound like a car salesman.” And I’d say thank god, If I do, please tell me and I’ll give it away. 

You’d go to a function and you would all be standing around going — and to hear the banter go, “That’s why we have a bad name.” Hilarious. But you know, great frontline stuff. People come in and they’re already going — they’re growling before you walk over to them. “I’m not here to bite. I’m here to help you buy a car.”

Simon Dell: What did you learn from that? You said you were thrown in the deep end, and sales is one of those things that we talk a lot about on this show, certainly with start-ups and early-stage businesses, having the ability to sell yourself and sell your business is absolutely imperative. But what did you learn from that early experience? 

Gerry Morris: It was brilliant. I think I sat there and had my hand held for the first couple of sales. And I was listening to experienced sales people just doing the whole sales journey. Just treat people like people, how would I want to be treated. After getting my first sale, which was all good, and then moving on, and a few more, and a few more. 

It was just dealing with people as people, and I think that was my success. And I think — trying to think back, maybe about 8 to 10 years of selling cars off the top of my head. And I also give away a lot of money, so they put me in Fleet. It’s not my money. Let’s make a deal. 

Simon Dell: The reason I wanted you on the show today is because when people talk about marketing strategies for Paper Planes, but getting up and talking in front of people is a really good way of bringing your — a lot of people to your attention very quickly. Getting yourself in front of a lot of people really makes them aware of you quite quickly. 

How did you get yourself into that first role? ICMI, obviously a very well-known speaker of business. How did you crack that one? 

Gerry Morris: I suppose with the Irish accent of mine, it’s the luck of the Irish. I was actually going to go sell cars up in Queensland. I was Adelaide based and heading up to the beautiful sunny coast there, and I thought, I’ll sell cars. And then a friend of mine who was actually working for ICMI in South Australia, she knew of the partings or ways for the guy that was based up in Queensland. 

And next thing, I was off to Melbourne to have a conversation. And I really thought it was like a job interview. But in the end, they just wanted to check me out and say, “Here you go.” But hilariously, they bamboozled me. They said, “Look at all these famous people you’ll be dealing, sporting heroes, politicians, amazing people.” 

Showed me the catalogue, I’m all bamboozled. I go up there, get Telstra to set up the phones. Day one, nothing happens, Day two, “Hey Telstra, did you put the right numbers together?” Day three, nothing. And then I started realizing that nobody knew about them up there. And it was going back to being a car salesman. Get out there, kiss babies, be at every networking function possible, shake as many hands as possible, and just a quick fun one on one first gig.

It’s a bit like selling the first car, but we were on the Sunshine Coast. A client had phoned up and they were looking for an MC for a big function. And they wanted one of the newsreaders, Brisbane newsreaders. Because we’re a little bit reasonable, we didn’t get them. So, I ended up phoning up Channel 9 Brisbane and said, with said accent, “I’m new to the country, my sons doing this little project. Who reads the news for you?”  

And they said, “Kate McGraw, Bruce Page.” Next thing, I hung up, picked up the phone again and go, “Can I speak to Bruce Page?” And they put me straight through. Bizarre, and it was game on. I had a good chuckle there myself. I think even maybe another one was a footy legend, Leigh Matthews. And when I called them up, I probably had a bit of a radio mic, “Hello, It’s Gerry Morris from ICMI.”

And he goes, “Yeah, what do you want?” And got him a speaking gig. He pockets about $6,000. Next time he hears from me. And then the second time I called I said g’day Mr Matthews, how are you going and he goes g’day Gerry. Hang on, am I the only Irishman you know? And he goes, “The only one who’s got my bloody mobile number.” 

And it was treating people like people. That was it. I went back to the car sales, just treat people like normal people and away you go. 

Simon Dell: I know this is going to sound a really obvious question but I’m going to ask it anyway. If people are out there putting an event together, what’s the benefit of them spending what often can be quite a bit of money on getting somebody in to actually speak at the event? 

Gerry Morris: Big-time, good question. A lot of times, some clients will say, “I can’t believe they want $5,000 or even $10,000 or more for a 45-minute presentation.” and I said, “Hang on, it’s probably more likely 20 years’ worth of experience crammed into 45 minutes. And you’re lucky to be getting it for that. There’s some great messages that’ll be delivered from stage.” 

We’ve all seen so-so presenters. We’ve seen exceptional ones. And if it just resonates with half the audience, and they’re more productive and get more out of it, then it’s a winner, absolute winner. 

Simon Dell: And how do they capitalize on it? It’s all well and good having a big name headlining the event, but are there other ways that they can really capitalize on that person appearing at their event? 

Gerry Morris: Again, cracker of a question. I could tell you about one which was about education, and again, different people in the audience. There’s a lady who I think is absolutely amazing. Her name is Robin Walsh, She is actually a voiceover expert as well as a brilliant speaker, but I’d put together an event for a client, 400 teachers, and I could see one woman knitting. 

The last thing she needed was motivating during the day. And another chap at the back of the room just stonewalled. And I was watching him. I was starting to feel a bit like the movie The Bodyguard. I’m just watching him, figured, “He hasn’t laughed. He hasn’t moved.” And at the end of it, the rest of the place was in stitches, taking notes, and thoroughly enjoying the presentation, but nothing.

But come the end of it, he’s bolted down to her and I was like, “Oh my god.” I’m chasing after him almost, giver her a hug, and off he went. As it turns out, he ended up sending me an e-mail to pass onto her. And he taught kids with special needs. And this is in his email. And I’d lost my mojo, and I got it back that day. There was no way I could tell his face from that, but he goes, ” I just can’t wait to teach my kids again. I can’t wait to get back to them.” And that was gold.

If a speaker can have that effect on X amount of people in the room, then it’s immeasurable. 

Simon Dell: If you’re a business owner out there, or you’re a marketer, or whatever you are, and you want to sit there an go, “One of the ways that I want to get myself out in front of potential clients is to take this kind of speaking route. “I guess a question you’re probably asked a lot is: A lot of people have a big fear of standing up in front of a room of people. 

And I don’t know whether you’ve actually done it, even though you’re booking the people, but what are some good ways for people to sit there and overcome that fear? 

Gerry Morris: Take a deep breath and get up there. And really, it’s just be confident in what you bring to the table. Again, I think if you want to stand out, then get up there and make a difference. You have to be very confident in what the message is you’re delivering. If you’re expecting somebody to eventually pay for you to be up in front of their audience, you want to be well and truly over that fear of getting up in front of people.

It’s like fear of spiders, fear of getting up on stage. Just do it. 

Simon Dell: How would you start off? I guess when I did it, I got invited to….People say, “Can you come along and talk for half an hour?” Back then, it was social media and stuff like that, small networking events. I guess that’s kind of a way of dipping your toe in the water to talk to a smaller group of people before you sit there and go, “You know, I’m going to jump up on stage in front of a thousand people.” 

Gerry Morris: Just along that lines, because I do get approached by people who want to get into it. And I say, go cut your teeth on rotary. They’re a lovely audience and they’re busting to get a speaker. There’s rotary groups all over the country and they have events like from dinner just about every week, in all local areas. 

Of course, you got your Toastmasters and the like, but they’re a lovely, gentle crowd. They’re not going to crucify you. And I just get some runs on the board. Because you need them. 

Simon Dell: That’s a good example. I think the other one that I think is a good example as well — people love it or hate it, but BNI groups. And I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to a BNI group. I’ve been a member and I know people that have been members for absolute years. I know people that have been to them and didn’t see the value in it. I can completely get that. 

But with those kind of things, you’re standing up and talking, sometimes walk for 2-3 minutes to a group of 15 people or 12 people, things like that. And that’s a really easy way of doing it because they’ve all done the same thing. They feel your pain. They’re a little bit more sympathetic towards helping you.

Gerry Morris: The thing for me has been AA groups. I’m joking, but I’ve been a BNI member myself, that two to three minutes, and I think every couple of months, you do a 10-15 minute presentation. It’s a great way of cutting your teeth on it. And even now from a BNI group that I was involved with some 10 years ago, I still have my lawyer, and my accountant, and one other chap, a book maker, all from that group that I left ages ago. So, you make good connections. 

Simon Dell: What about YouTube and using that as well in terms of recording yourself and watching it back, or recording it, showing it to other people? 

Gerry Morris: Yeah, that’s a goody, too. That all helps. When you look at LinkedIn now, there’s a lot of people making videos. I’m not too sure about the ones driving around in the car. 

Simon Dell: You’ve obviously read some of mine, but that’s a big bug bear of mine. I can’t understand this obsession with people recording themselves in cars. 

Gerry Morris: I don’t get it at all. I go, what are you doing? 

Simon Dell: But do you know what? The funny thing is, Gerry, I did one of myself in a car once and it was one of the most viewed videos I’ve ever had. 

Gerry Morris: Oh, there you go. 

Simon Dell: What is it? It’s not so much people wanting to video themselves in cars, it appears that other people want to watch other people in a car. 

Gerry Morris: It works that way. Bizarre. That’s one of your best viewed ones. I think I might do the Trump thing and go stand next to a helicopter. Just shout with blades going behind me, because again, a world leader and you go — you’d have to be an idiot to stand next to a helicopter and give a presentation. And he does it week after week. What would we know, Simon? What would we know? 

Simon Dell: Once you’re confident standing up in front of people speaking to people, you’re confident in your material, you’re confident with the subject matter, I guess there’s also an element of creating a bit of a brand for yourself. And I guess some of the most successful speakers I’ve seen have gone beyond the, “I’m just a speaker.” But created a kind of brand that is bigger than they are that people feel attracted to and want to book for. 

Gerry Morris: Great call. I’m just trying to think of some of the bigger ones that I’ve gone ahead. There’s a lady, she’s not with my company, but other companies might get shitty with me. 

Simon Dell: A lady, and she’s built it on trust. Now, she $30,000-$35,000 to get up and speak on trust. It was the highest-paid — one of the highest-paid Australian speakers that I’ve ever know. And it’s a smudge behind ex-Prime Ministers. I have a funny one with politicians who want lots of money. You couldn’t shut them up for free. No, they want $40,000-$50,000 to get up and talk for an hour. 

But moreover, a quick one on that is that one time, I sent John Howard to Fiji for a hair car product company. 

Simon Dell: I had that listed down here. John Howard Hair Care. You can tell me about that one. We were going to get to that eventually, but…

Gerry Morris: It just came to mind. I’ve just gone like, “What the?” Where I actually had a big accident, and I thought somebody was playing up to me and make me feel better. So, I was going along with it going, “Oh, yeah, look if there had been a big head and eyebrow waxer.” It’d be ideal for it, just deadpan nothing on the other end and I’m going, “This is serious.” 

Next thing, I was sending him and Janine to Fiji for a certain hair care product. I’m sure that women in the room were just going, “What the fuck is John Howard doing here?”

Simon Dell: How did it go? Did it go down well? 

Gerry Morris: Yeah, the client was happy. I think they might’ve been a big liberal supporter or something. Everybody’s a winner, but then I had this stupid thing where I had to book him via an American agency because it was an international gig. That was annoying. I got to know his PA very well over a long time, Ruth, and she goes, “I’m really sorry, Gerry. But because it’s an international, you’ve got to go through Washington speakers.”

And I go, “What?” Anyway, politics. 

Simon Dell: The other thing I was going to ask you in terms of creating that brand for yourself, do you think it’s worth people investing in things like a website and having their own social media channels in terms of promoting themselves?

Gerry Morris: Totally. They have to. People want information. People want to know what you’re about before they’re going to put you in front of their audience. This is not just me plugging my new business,…

Simon Dell: But I’m going to plug my own business

Gerry Morris: How many times can I throw that in there? But it’s amazing. One of the things I’m seeing at the moment is the speaker’s journey is you hone your craft, and your message, and what you’re going to put on stage. That takes time, as you said, like you’re cutting your teeth and then you get better and better at it, getting runs on the board.

And then you got to be found. So then you’ve got to get a website, you’ve got to get good branding, and you want to be making the right noises on social, get as many cars as you can and make videos. And you want people to be able to identify and connect with you. But what I’ve said, and again, pushing the brand, there’s a lot of speakers trying to do that. 

They’re either trying to do it individually, so there’s all this noise going around. And they either go down the model that has been, which is bureaus, and agencies, which have been around for like 30-40 years. And then what we’re trying to create here,, is creating a central hub that goes, “Come make the noise with us.” 

And again, I find it amazing that somebody would put a speaker on stage without speaking to them first. So even in my own ways, is that my bosses didn’t like me doing this in the past, but I would get the speaker to talk to the client. And they go, “What if they go behind your back?” I go, “What sort of relationship have I caused that they’re going to do that?”

And if they’re going to put them in front of their audience, surely they want to have a chat then no more than just two weeks before the event. Because as it turns out, people will book a speaker from the suggestions and then not speak to them two weeks before the event, and then bang, they’re on stage in front of people. When I think about it, it’s crazy, really.

Simon Dell: Absolutely.

Gerry Morris: Why would you?

Simon Dell: I guess the other questions I have to ask is, you’ve had a long history in this. Who has been the best person that you’ve listened to speak?

Gerry Morris: For various and different reasons, different speakers are going to resonate with different people. I’ll have a couple of old favourites, and I mean no harm to any of my other speakers who are listening now, but there was a great old guy, Tom O’Toole, he’s a mad baker from Beechworth who has been described as John Cleese on speed, and just about sums him up.

He’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but this is a baker, a baker who back in the day his wife left him, they put an oily gun in his mouth, and he was at that stage. It was in Beechworth, like a little town, but he talked the council into polishing the old town back to the way it was, like in its gold mining days. 

He had just the little bakery with two part-timers, neither of them on the books. Just your typical little country bakery. And now, it’s like the size of a big hotel, big pub. Two stories, bus loads go there. And at the end of the day, the message is, he’s hilarious in delivering them, but he said, “Most of the times, we just miss it, it’s just treat the customer well. Look them in the eye and give them what they want. “

Which supposedly goes back to my car sales days. But on stage, he is hilarious. He talks at 100 miles an hour and he’s very good. I’ve had CEOs say to me, “There’s so many messages. I just have to put the pen down and just go along with the ride and take it all in.” And that’s somebody who is not a polished diamond. That’s just raw and that’s who he is, and I love that in a speaker. If somebody’s coming across too polished, it’s like, you almost feel like a pause, rewind, “I’ll fit this back in again.”

Simon Dell: Anybody else on your favourites list?

Gerry Morris: A guy I reckon you’d get along very well with, Collin D. Ellis. He’s a good man. Ian Stevens is up there for me as well. On the health side, Marg Bann. Another ripper of a lady is Robin Moore. Always been an old favourite. Yeah, more so than your big named American ones.

I’m not a Tony Robbins type of guy. I like what he does. I love the show that he brings to people. And if it makes people feel great, then woo-hoo, awesome. But it roles in the town and it picks up a couple of million in each city and it goes again. That’s huge. And quite often, that’s why speakers here want to try and break it into the American market. Fees are treble what you get here.

Simon Dell: That’s another good question. Obviously, the American market is over 10 times bigger, like 15, 20 times bigger than ours. How do Australian speakers fair in the American market? Again, I’ve seen mixed reactions. Some people think that Australians are a bit backward and quaint in terms of what they do.

But I also hear a lot of tech speakers talk about Australia, saying, in some respects, Australia is actually further ahead of America in certain aspects. So, how do you see that?

Gerry Morris: Sometimes, it’s even hilarious when Americans don’t understand Australians. They literally don’t understand them and going like, yeah. And I’ve had a couple of guys going, “I’ve had to change my ways.” There was a guy who — a lovely bloke. And I thought he was more from Liverpool. And he goes, “Now mate, I’ve been told that…” Born and bred in Sydney and he says, “When I go on stage, people don’t understand me. I almost developed this English accent.” 

And I’ve gone, “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.” But there’s a guy over there at the moment who’s doing great. Vin Chang is his name. He did really well here. Terrific speaker, and he’s doing very well in the States at the moment. It’s a hard nut to crack. There’s a guy… I just can’t think of his name at the moment, but he’s running a campaign a little bit similar to what we’re doing. But to Australian speakers break it into the US.

It’s just tough. It’s like being a comedian or in a band. It’s like you’re in that sort of industry. And to get recognition and a big crowd, tough going.

Simon Dell: And I guess certainly with America, it’s even more important than Australia, that you find a niche that you can really, really exploit and present yourself in, rather than being the jack of all trades, master of none type thing.

Gerry Morris: There was a lady I met ago, and she was doing quite well over there back in the day. But then she gave the Americans what they wanted as well. A fair bit of rah-rah and feel good kind of stuff.

Simon Dell: One of my other challenges with some of these speakers is: I personally like to see the ones that have succeeded and that had a history of succeeding. You mentioned Tony Robbins — for whatever you know — and the other one would be Gary V, Gary Vaynerchuk.

For all the bad stuff you could say about both of them, Tony Robbins is a very rich man and Gary Vaynerchuk’s a very rich man. These guys have succeeded. And I saw — I forget her name now, a former head of something at the White House when the Clintons were in there. I heard her speak last year. She was excellent.

Gerry Morris: Not Melissa?

Simon Dell: No. It was a White House staff rather than government official. I can’t remember her name. I guess my question with that is: It’s quite easy for people to present themselves as something that they’re not, and to tell people they’ve achieved something that they haven’t. Do you think the industry finds those people out quite quickly?

Gerry Morris: I do believe — and it’s almost like everyone gets through, it’s like, how the hell did I get through the crack? There’s been one or two that can’t be named. But yeah, same thing. Even when something comes in as, “I’m a consultant to your business.” And they’ve never owned a business or know anything about it. “Have you been in these trenches?” “No, I haven’t been in them trenches, but if I was in those trenches…” And you go, “Yeah, but you haven’t.”

Simon Dell: Those are always red flags for me. Number one, people saying “I’m a business consultant” who has never run a business. And the second one is people wanting to sell you a book or sell you a system that can help you scale and make you rich, and you sort of go, “Well, if you were doing that well, why would you be bothering trying to teach us that to make us rich?”

Gerry Morris: And why are you still living with your mom?

Simon Dell: Yeah. Those kind of things never made sense to me. I mean, there’s one that I watch at the moment who is a former client of mine that had two businesses liquidated by the ATO and is now presenting himself as this successful business coach, and I’m like, [sigh]. Yeah, no.. Anyway, look, just to finish up, I guess the final question I have to ask you is: Any disasters that you’ve had, things that would… Things that’s going to make us laugh or make us realize that this can happen to the best of people.

Gerry Morris: No. Thankfully, not too many disasters as far as speaker’s gone. But there’s one lady who does very well in the employment field. I also had a lady who was genuinely crazy. I’ve seen her in the street, and it was just like — I did everything to avoid this lady being able to come to this event I was running. Like, proper mad. Proper mad. 

I remember one time sitting in a cafe and I see her around the counter and I actually the phoned the cafe for my second cuppa just in case I bump into her. But lo and behold, I was MC in this event and said, “Lady…” Who went off on a tangent several times and I’m going, “What are you talking about?” And next thing questions, one or two questions, and then next thing, my crazy lady was in the room and asked a question — well, made a statement.

And it was just like, what? It was such a random and bizarre question. And then next thing, lady on stage says: “Let’s bring her up on stage. What a great question I’ve got.” It’s like all my nightmares coming together at once. And I swear it was like two aliens with antennas just talking to each other at a completely different level that everybody in the room was going, “What is going on?” 

And I’m looking at my lovely event assistant, going what the? And it was like, “No, shut them up.” It was like the cartoon and where’s that big stick that they have in the cartoons where they just bang the stick off the floor? Where’s the lever to — they just fell through that — Make them stop! I found my religion again very quickly, “Please god, make it stop.”

Simon Dell: Mate, thank you very much for your time today. Obviously, let’s give you one last chance to plug the business in. You’ve done it a few times today. Drop the URL on us one more time.

Gerry Morris: It’s disrupting the industry, and I know it is. A few people are not happy about it, but lots of speakers get direct bookings. We’re just trying to help them get more. It’s a different way of doing it, like so many things. We’ve been listening to speakers talk about disruption and change. It’s 2020 in 3 months’ time. Good lord, 2020. Bring it on.

Simon Dell: Oh don’t keep saying that Gerry. 

Gerry Morris: Simon, it’s been a pleasure.

Simon Dell: Mate, thank you for being on the show. It’s been very entertaining. We’ll keep an eye out on the website. If anyone wants to get a hold of you, is that the best place to find you or anywhere else that you hang out?

Gerry Morris: You’ll find me in a few bars. What’s the chance of bumping in? But yeah, it’s fine. The website is all good, mate. And thank you very much.

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