For more than 20 years, Anton has been a leadership advisor to some of the biggest brands in the United States of America, including the President of the United States.
He has worked with hundreds of leaders and organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sector. Get ready for a ton of value on how to engage your audience, keep them listening, and get them inspired and motivated.
Victor Ahipene: Speaking nation, what’s happening? Welcome to another episode of public speaking secrets podcast. I’m your host, Victor Ahipene, and we have another superstar guest on today to get you kicking into 2019. I’ve got a gun and he has been a leadership advisor to some of the biggest brands in the United States of America, including the president of the United States, which we’re definitely going to delve into for all of you because I know that’s piqued your interest. And he’s worked with hundreds of leaders and organizers in the public, private and nonprofit sector. And I know we’ve had some others in the past have worked in different spaces in corporate in that has also excited a lot of you. He’s the founder of nine. It’s three seven strategy group, which is a consulting practice that provide services to leaders in healthcare organizations who want to build a world class leadership culture that transforms employees’ engagement in services. Outcomes is a former lecturer at Harvard University and the author of two books, the presidential principals, how to inspire action and create lasting impact and the audacity of leadership. So with that, uh, amazing, amazing intro, I’m not talking about trump talking more about and tom’s buyer a welcome to the show, my friend.
Anton Gunn: I’m happy to be having to be with your victor. How you doing?
Victor Ahipene: I’m good, my friend. I’m good. I’d love to kind of get a bit of a gauge before we kind of talk more about that, what you’ve done, how did you get into what you have? Obviously when a lot of us become adults, it’s like we start off doing one thing, we ended up doing something else and then it all comes to this. Before we get into how you started working with the, with the, uh, president of the United States, how did that all kind of come about to what you’re doing now?
Anton Gunn: Yeah. So that’s a, that’s a great place to start. So, um, so I never envisioned growing up that this is what I would be doing with my life. I literally started as a, I’m a high school athlete where I played American football here in the United States and I’m having to be a very good athlete. And when I was 17 years old, the first leadership opportunity I was given was when my teammates named me captain of the football team, and when I was named captain, my mother, who was a school teacher, invited me to her class to speak to her fifth graders about what it took to become a leader and a captain of a football team. And I got passionate about education at that point and decided I wanted to be a school teacher in my career. And so I went off to college. I played college football at the University of South Carolina, uh, on the offensive line.
Uh, I finished college and really wanted to be a school teacher, but it was a tough economy. And, uh, I didn’t take the teaching exam in time. So I needed to find a job that would help me make it until I could get a teaching job. And I got a job at a small nonprofit organization that was focused on healthcare services. And their mission was to make sure that the healthcare services in America helped low income families of color. People who many times didn’t have healthcare. And what I found myself doing really two months into my first job is speaking before public bodies, like city councils and county councils, elected bodies, explaining to them why people in the community, the healthcare services, and that’s where I first learned how to tell a story. I had to tell the story of families who didn’t have good access to healthcare. Many times was down on their luck. They didn’t make enough money to make ends meet, but they still need a treatment for their healthcare challenges. And so I wanted to be a teacher, but ended up being an advocate and being an advocate as where I got the opportunity to tell stories.
Victor Ahiene: I want to go back to, uh, back to the first thing. When you’re, you captain of your, your high school team, when you gave that first talk, so you caught the, you call it the passion for teaching. How from the Internet now, how, like what, what went through your head when you had to give that first talk? Was it always something that you’re confident in? Was it the comfort, the confidence, eight, what you actually delivered? And did that start a journey of how can I become a more effective art or public speaker?
Anton Gunn: So I’ll tell you, the funny thing is I was very comfortable in front of a crowd and the reason why I was very comfortable in front of a crowd before becoming a speaker. I was an aspiring rapper and I wanted to be a hip hop artists when I was a teenager. And so I had performed and talent shows and public events and so I was used to being on stage and having a microphone. But instead of speaking to people as I would be as a speaker, I was rapping. I was telling rhymes and telling stories and Ryan and so I was comfortable in front of the crowd. But what inspired me when I was at high school football player and I got to talk to those students was how people responded to what I said. And I could see the look in their eye that they were really into what I was saying. And so I wanted to add the value of A. I projected as a rapper, as a part of my spoken word as a part of my speech and so I had some natural abilities and some natural comfort, but it took me many, many years before I became a speaker who is not only good enough to give a compelling 45 minute speech but good enough to be able to charge five or six figures for a speech and it took me a long time to be able to get there.
Victor Ahipene: And so take us to that next step. You started talking to organizations that were obviously decision makers and you had to tell that story and craft that story. Now, I don’t know your kind of background, whether it was something that you could pull from experience from the story side of things, or was it something that you had to kind of get in and amongst the people and you obviously dealing with a lot of these people. How did you find, because I’m a big advocate of the power of story and how did you find that, that Muse, I guess, and, and what do you find makes an effective, effective talk a fictive sorry, story within your kind of industry and the people that you speak to?
Anton Gunn: Yeah, that’s a great question. So it’s really in two parts and so when I started, part of my job was to collect stories and so, so in order for me to go before a decision making body and convinced them that they needed to do something, I couldn’t just have one story so I would literally talk to two or 300 families and they all would have a similar thread through their stories. And so I would say, you know, I’ve spoken to 200 families and most of those families have this issue, this issue with this year and I would say, and here’s one family and I will tell the specific story of one family, but it was like I have one personalized story, but I had a lot of facts of other stories to back it up. That was somewhat effective in my experience of being able to convince people to do certain things, but it was only after I have my own personal experiences with the healthcare system that were negative that I began to be able to tell a more powerful story because when you’re telling someone else’s stories, you can hear some of the details but you don’t know all of the intimate details.
But if you start to tell your own story, you can bring a whole lot more color into the experience. And so when I would tell the story about how I had stacks of medical bills of over $17,000 and couldn’t pay them all because I didn’t have good quality health insurance. It was more powerful to be able to talk about that I had an anesthesia bill that was $495 that I had a prescription drug bill that was $1,500. And so I was able to tell the story in a much more compelling way because I have much more color. And so I think the best stories are the ones where you can be as descriptive as possible. To let your audience really feel like they’re a part of the story where they can literally see smell and taste what you’re saying, and so I couldn’t do that really in the early part of my career and it took me a long time to understand that it’s better to teach people how to tell their own stories and part of what my job became later is to build up the individual’s confidence.
To be able to tell their own story. And that’s a big part of being a leader is that I think every leader who takes on a leadership role, when you walk in front of the room, the people respect you immediately because you’ve given a title. You have a title, but that respect is only entitled to you for one day. The next day. You have to earn your leadership every day and so to earn your leadership, you have to know how to talk to people about your experiences and your own personal stories. The more you’re able to connect with them around your story and you share some vulnerability to show them that you’re not perfect, that you made some mistakes. People can identify with you and connect with you and that’s what I learned over my career is that the best leaders, the best speakers are the ones who tell powerful stories that everyone can connect with.
Victor Ahipene: Yeah. And it’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. In regards to. I mean I preach about, oh, I don’t preach, but I gotta go on about the power of storytelling and how you. I mean, you can give fact after fact after fact on a, you know, whatever. People want to kill people by PowerPoint until whatever they want to do or you read it all out and have the most factually based a talk or you can give people a story and control the narrative, type them on a journey, get them emotionally involved and they don’t have to remember every single detail because they know that whatever you’re talking to, your overarching message was a yeah. It connected to that and then they can connect and relate to it. So we see stories every day. So I mean…
Anton Gunn: And I had a boss tell me one day when I say a boss, he was really a mentor. My Business Mentor, my first business mentor, he says, Anton, facts tell, the stories sell, and then if you really want to convince someone to make a business decision to buy your product or your service, you have to tell them a story because you can give them all the facts and figures all day. You can list like if you’re selling a car, you can tell them about the power of steering. You can tell them about the heated seats, you can tell them about the seat belts and you can tell them about the stereo, all of those effects, but you have to give them a story that they can see themselves inside of the car with the top down, driving on the coastal highway with the pretty girl sitting beside them and how they’re now extra special because they’re in his car.
So you can tell a compelling story. You can sell people into making a decision that will help your business or grow your company or even convinced them to your side, but if you just give people the facts, they’ll get lost in the facts. They’ll glaze over everything that you say to forget everything that you’ve said, but if you tell them a story, people were a member stories because before we could write things down on paper in our, in the history of the world, before we pass things down on paper, we pass down through oral stories. That’s how we learned most of our life, what to do and what not to do. We all got told a story about our grandparent or great grandparent or an uncle in those stories, uh, would help move us into a better direction. And so you want to convince someone of something, you got to learn how to tell a great story.
Victor Ahipene: If you’re listening to this right now, rewind all of that and just really take, take bed. And because I, I mean, I, I can only happen to you about how stories for so long, but when you hear it, so, so. Well put. Thanks. Thanks for that. Let’s jump into kind of the next phase of your life and we’ll see what kind of speaking gyms come up there. So you’ve, you’ve gone out on your own, I assume, and you’ve started your own business, run us through that and kind of how the leads chased to the, to the steps of the president.
Anton Gunn: Yeah. So that’s a, that’s a great way to move next. So, um, I started speaking for free, so whether it was youth camps or summer camps or church events or neighborhood had been, it didn’t matter if people wanted someone to come and talk about a public policy and, or talk about healthcare, I would be happy to come and speak. And I remember getting invited one day to a church, a local church. They do a youth Sunday at the church. So every, every summer on one Sunday they’ll invite a young person to come and speak to the young people in the church. And so I got invited to speak and I gave a great speech and got a standing ovation. And at the end of the service, at the end of the service, the priest or the pastor of the church came up to me and says, that was a great speech.
So much so that I want to give you an offering, a love offering because you did such a good job and he wrote me a check for $150 and I was like, wow, you’re going to pay me to speak? And he says, yeah, that was good enough. We’re going to pay you to speak. And I took the hundred $150. I’m so excited. I went out in the parking lot to get into my car to drive home in. A woman ran out to me in a parking lot. She says, Mr. Gunn, uh, I was in the audience of hearing you speak today and I’m not a member of this church. I just came to visit, but your speech was so good that I talked to my pastor and we would like for you to come to our church the next Sunday and we want to know how much do you charge to speak?
And I said, I looked into my pocket. I pulled out the $150 check and I said, I charge $150. And she says, great. We love to have you. Those are the first two times that I got paid to be a speaker and that’s literally where my business began. Now, my business as a speaker was always part time because I had a job, but my job was focused on doing good community work. And how my story with the president began is when I made a decision to run for public office myself. I ran for elective office in South Carolina and I ran a great campaign, but I ended up losing by 298 votes. And when I lost very closely out of $14,000, only 290 of those separated me in the winter. Um, I was a little dejected, but a lot of people patted me on the back and they said, you made a great first try.
Good job. Um, but I felt inspired to serve at that point, and at the same time that I felt inspired to serve. Um, I heard a new story about a skinny US senator from the state of Illinois in America who is thinking about running for president. His name was Barack Obama. And, um, you can look into time magazine if you Google Anton Gunn Time magazine, you’ll see the story about how I got involved in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. I helped him to become president of the United States. And then after he became president, two years later, he asked me to serve in his administration and I became one of his senior advisors as he began to implement healthcare reform in America and try to pass the affordable care act. So for three years I served as a senior advisor to Barack Obama. And my responsibility while I worked for him was to do three things.
Number one is that I helped to coach him on how to talk about healthcare reform, so it would connect with the American people, particularly young people. So I actually gave the president coaching and consultation around the right words to use to tell the right kind of story. So young people will connect with healthcare reform. A second part of my job was my job was to be a keynote speaker on behalf of the administration. So on behalf of the president and the cabinet secretary of Health and Human Services, I would travel the country and give speeches at conferences about the value of healthcare and what we were trying to do to make health care reform a reality. So while working for the president, I gave some 900 speeches across the country talking about healthcare. And in telling that a speech about healthcare, I would tell stories about the millions of families who were at a crisis place because they didn’t have good healthcare or what happened to a family because they couldn’t get treatment, couldn’t get good treatment.
And so I helped to sell the affordable care act to the American people. And so not only became law, but after it became law that people would have been taking advantage of the benefits that the law created. And so that’s how I got to know the President Barack Obama and worked for him for three and a half years. Now he is not the only president that I’ve had an interaction with. I’ve only worked for one president, but President Herbert Walker Bush, President Clinton and President George W Bush. And the current president, Donald Trump, I’ve been in the presence of all of these presidents for various reasons. I’m related to my personal and my professional life and I basically taken those experiences in a distilled some leadership lessons that no matter if you are president of your neighborhood association, President of your social club or president of just your family, these are lessons you can use to inspire action and people create a positive impact and build a world class culture inside your own organization. And I now do that for business inside of healthcare organizations and tech organizations in America.
Victor Ahipene: It’s one hell of a one hell of a story. I mean, I come from New Zealand and Australia and healthcare and public healthcare is kind of an accepted norm. So when I say it, when I say, when I say people kicking up a storm against the biomed care or affordable healthcare act, yeah, I thought I follow a little bit of politics from a father and I’m like, this is the norm. Ever asked people. You should.
Anton Gunn: It no makes sense. Right? It makes no sense whatsoever, but you know, we, you know, we are where we are in American. So part of my, my responsibility was to try to help be a difference maker and that’s exactly what I was able to do that.
Victor Ahipene: Well, congratulations on that and in regards to where you’re at now. So it’s a, you’re educating and inspiring from the leadership standpoint. What I’d love to delve into for those who are looking to go down potentially the corporate route or you’re going into organizations and training, apart from having the awesome social proof of working with the working with the president. What are some of the things that you do to get a foot in the door with some of these organizations and maybe some of the negotiation process when it comes to getting paid and what their kind of whole process looks like behind the scenes.
Anton Gunn: Yeah, so that’s a great, great question. So first, um, social proof is an important part of getting in the door, but I think what people want out of a consultant or out of a speaker is they want someone that understands their industry. They really want someone to understand the challenges and the opportunities that they might have in their business or in their organization. And so in order to do that, you have to be somewhat of an expert on the industry. And so there is some speakers we try to talk to all industries, so they’ll try to talk to businesses, banks, they’ll talk to community groups that talked to hospitals. He’ll talk to everybody across the board where I choose not to do that. I choose to focus inside of one industry, the healthcare industry. So whether you’re a pharmaceutical company, whether you’re a hospital, whether you’re a clinic, whether you’re a drug rehab agency, whether you’re a case manager, my focus is to try to know that industry.
So I read industry publications, uh, I become members of the different trade associations. So I’m a member of the National Association of Healthcare Executives. I’m a member of the National Service Healthcare Executives’ Organization. So I joined the associations and I go to their conferences and at those conferences I learned their language in their lingo. I learned how they talk about problems, what’s the nomenclature inside of a people who work in hospitals, which will be different than the nomenclature that you would use if you worked at a bank or if you worked at a corporation. So learning the nomenclature is a big part of when you write a proposal to use the words that they’re familiar with and what I tell aspiring speakers that if you don’t know an industry, this is how you understand the language that they use. Pick the number one company in the industry. So let’s say if you were picking, um, fast food industry, you would pick McDonald’s or Burger King or whatever the company is pocket.
If you pick McDonald’s, you can go to McDonald’s corporate website and you can look at their annual report. So what did the CEO say to the entire company about how well we’re doing as a business? If you read the annual report, the CEO will write the annual report in their nomenclature. So he’ll use the words customer service or hot food fast. So we want to cut service times down to 30 seconds through drive through. So you’ll learn the language of the industry by reading the corporate report, so the annual reports of the organization or sometimes you can just get it by redoing their websites. So, me getting business is easy when I make a phone call or when I send an email to a customer or potential customer and client and I start to use their nomenclature. They have the belief that I have a higher level of expertise in their industry because I know the language that they use and so that gets me a little further in the door.
Then beyond that, it’s around understanding what their problems are and making sure that my speech of my topic for training is a solution to their problem is that I’d never tried to be the hero. So you’re a company or a business owner, you want to be the hero to your customers. I don’t want to be the hero, I just want to be the guide to help you to be the hero for your customers. And so what can I provide to help guide you into a better path so you can have that impact. And so that’s how I get in the door. So the context of proposal writing varies from group to group. Some people want a short email that’s just two paragraphs about who I am, what I can do for them, and how much it costs. Other people may want a five page proposal, tell us why you’re the best fit for our brand, for our company, what you can deliver, and so you have to be nimble and flexible in catering to what your potential customers might want in might need.
And I’ll also say to most of your listeners who may be experts in their own industry. So all of us have a job in something before we became an aspiring speaker, many times that’s the best place to start. That my expertise in healthcare started when I was a 23 year old and couldn’t get a teaching job and I had to go work in communities. I’ll learn how hospitals operate. So my expertise started out of my professional career as a, as a healthcare worker. And so I chose to just stay in that industry. But the messages that I deliver could matter to so many people. It doesn’t have to be just in healthcare, but I particularly focus on those people who I understand their language and feel like I can meet their needs.
Victor Ahipene: That’s a brilliant insight because, I mean, I think a lot of people do like say they kind of machine gun approach and a fire it out to everybody and I’ve got the yeah, the flat. Uh, I’ve got the tie that you can put it onto any bicycle car, anything that you like and just hire me and hope. Whereas you take that step back, find out where’s the space with is specifically in America. There’s enough growth for any space in there. I mean, when I’m in Brisbane and it’s the third biggest city in Australia and its 2 million people with you. You cut, you cut down. But I mean still, if you find that space, there’s enough, soon enough hospitals, there’s still enough health organizations to keep you more than busy.
Anton Gunn: It was one point I’ll give you, give you this analogy to that point, there are over 5,600 hospitals in the United States of America. If I spoke at 100 of them a year, it would take me 50 years to get through all of them. So that’s plenty of business and I’m not trying to do 100 keynotes a year. I would love to do 100 keynotes a year, but my wife wouldn’t like it too much.
Victor Ahipene: And so, um, last couple of questions and in that space that you’re talking about, so you’ve, you’ve, uh, who is the person that you’re trying to make contact with that first email or that first proposal within organizations and then when it comes to just to give people a bit of an idea when it comes from, say that first email to you actually being in front of people, what’s the usual time frame for that to happen?
Anton Gunn: Yeah. So that’s, that’s an important place for me to probably tease this out. So, um, you can start with reaching out to a couple of different people. So for me, LinkedIn has become a very valuable tool for me professionally. So if you’re not familiar with LinkedIn, it’s a new business networking website where people have a business profiles, etc. So I use LinkedIn to search for people. So let’s say I want to talk to, uh, the US Pharmaceutical Association. Well, I’ll go into LinkedIn and I’ll search us pharmaceutical association to see if there’s anybody in my network that works at the us pharmaceutical association and if I find one person who say maybe they’re low level nurse, they’re not really a CEO or HR director, but I’ll ask them, who’s your CEO or who’s the head of HR or do you know who’s in charge of training and development for your company?
Who’s in charge of executive development? And so I’ll find the person who has some level of responsibility of developing other leaders in the organization. So it’s easily HR, human resources or talent development training and development. And sometimes it’s strategic planning or manpower or, or human capital. And so our reach out to them and I’ll have a short email that says, hello, my name Is Anton Gunn. And I see that you’re in charge of training and development for your company. I’m a leadership coach and speaker that provides training to build world class leadership culture in organizations. I reached out to you because you may need a speaker for your upcoming meeting. I would love to talk to you. And if you’re so interested in the meantime, I want to give you a free copy of my eBook that I wrote called raising pain for you to learn the forties to increase your impact as a leader.
So I always give people something away. So for all of these aspiring speakers out there, one of the best tools you can develop is something that you’ve written. I know we always want to tell people to write a book. You don’t actually have to write a book. You could write a white paper, white paper, could be the 10 things you need to know about healthcare services or the 10 things you need to know about leadership that will make you a better person. So right a pdf, white paper or in a word document, save it as a pdf and give it away to people. Because what I find is the person that I reach out to, even if they’re not interested in hiring me as a speaker today, they’ll download the white paper and they’ll read it and they’ll say, this guy’s pretty insightful. He has something to say, and if there are interested in me there, next question will be is, can you tell me more about your fees and how much you charge?
Well, I never taught money out of the gate. The first person that talks money is the person that loses. So what you then answer for them is I’d be happy to share my fees with you. Can you tell me more about the challenges you want to address in the training? So you put it back on them to have them ask. You have to give you information around the challenges that they’re having and then you’re able to craft your solution. So sometimes when some clients, if they reached out to me on a first of the month, so let’s say it’s January 1st, they reached out to me, maybe by February 15th we’ll have a deal locked in. And the keynote speech may not be until March or April, but we’ll have it locked in. But I’ll give an example. Like today I got an email this morning from a group that wants me to keynote their annual staff meeting on the 15th of January and that’s literally 10 days from now in Washington DC and I live in South Carolina.
So I reach out to them and I say I’d be happy to do it. Let’s sign a contract. You need to send me a 50 percent deposit once you send me the deposit and the travel fee, I’ll book my plane ticket and I’ll be there and you give me the balance of my fee on the day of the event. And so sometimes it happens as short as two weeks. Sometimes I have clients who have booked me to speak in August of 2019. So it took about a six week process to close a deal. But my speaking engagement is not until, you know, nine months from now or eight months from now.
Victor Ahipene: Very, very good insights. And so finally, and you said you don’t want to give, your wife doesn’t want you to give a 100 keynotes a year. What does the next couple of years look like for your business as a scale with other people who can, who can do that or keep doing what you’re already doing it at the level that you can. What does it look like moving forward?
Anton Gunn: Yeah. So here’s the way I, you know, I, I did a hundred and 17 keynotes in 2017 and my wife didn’t like it because I was gone a lot this past year. I did 74 keynotes. I’ve scaled back a little bit, but what I’m trying to do more than just keynotes is to try to add ongoing value for a client. So for one example, I have a client who has booked me for 10 keynote events over a two year period. And so, um, instead of me just being a one off keynote speaker, I’ve said to them, listen, because I’m doing this many keynotes for you, maybe it should be better to look at me to do some ongoing leadership development consulting and training with you and your team. And so we’re now in negotiations for a framework for me to come out quarterly and to do a day and a half leadership retreat with a group of leaders.
And for that I won’t charge your typical keynote speaking fee, but they’ll put me on a retainer a that they’ll pay me monthly. And so I become an extension of the company to do their work. And so I believe my future is a mix of both that I’ll still do the big annual conferences every year. I’m looking for more international events. So have any of your listeners want me to come to Australia? I’d be happy to come and do some international events, but um, I’ll do their big conferences, but I’m looking for companies that I can invest more time in and actually help them to grow their leadership culture, have a greater impact that makes a bigger difference in the lives of the organization and really move them to greater outcomes for how they serve their customers, but how their employees feel. Because I believe that everyone deserves to work for a world class leader and working in an organization that they feel inspired to show up to work everyday and that only happens when you have good quality leaders who really understand the presidents of principles that I teach.
Victor Ahipene: If anyone is out there looking for Somebody down under who can, who can, uh, as you can obviously understand, bring it a lot of value to your organization and your staff and then make sure you get in touch. And if the ads get in touch with the base place to track you down, find out what you’re up to and, uh, and get a, get a look behind the curtain.
Anton Gunn: Yeah. So you can always get a look behind the curtain by going to antongunn.com. That’s my homepage for all things related to me. If you’re a social media activist like I am, I’m all on, on social media a lot. Instagram is @antonjgun. You’ll learn a lot about my life, my family, my love for hip hop music and culture by being on Instagram with me. I’m on twitter at @antonjgun and I’m also on Facebook at Anton Gunn as well. LinkedIn is where I do my business and our network are business people and so you can find me there as well. All my handles are antonjgun, easy place to find, but by homepage is antongunn.com. If you want to join my mailing list and get free leadership teaching every week through my newsletter, I’d be happy to share that with you and you can sign up right there at antongunn.com.
Victor Ahipene: Awesome. We’ll link that at publicspeakingblueprint.com and so on. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Deep diving into, into your whole journey in the corporate world and just, yeah, just being a ton of gems that everyone can check out when this is, when they’re listening to it. There’ll be able to share notes and links. I would just want to welcome you to the speaking nation family and I look forward to catching up in the next couple of years when you’re down under and giving a talk and also hopefully jumping on this on the show and just seeing how everything has been progressing.
Anton Gunn: Well, I’m happy to be with you, victor, having to be a part of the fan club nation, your nation and all that you do. If anything I can do to add value to then please let me know.
Victor Ahipene: Thanks man.