Gail Davis, founder and president of Dallas-based GDA Speakers, was working in corporate training for EDS when the phone rang. “One of my mentors called me and said, ‘There’s a position in the events department, and I think you should do it. It would be so easy for a working mom,’” says Davis, before adding wryly, “It was clearly someone who had never planned events.”
Regardless, she made the move and began producing large-scale corporate events. “It was so much fun. That is where I learned all about events … and I loved the speaker part; I would just fixate on that,” she says. “I always loved finding the right speaker.”
In 1994, EDS’ chairman gave her a particularly daunting challenge. “He said, ‘I want a speaker who is global in their appeal; someone everyone wants to hear, but no one’s heard of yet.’”
A week later, Davis rented the movie “Alive,” a true story about a Uruguayan rugby team who, following an airplane crash in the Andes Mountains, was forced to survive in the wilderness for two months. Watching it later that evening, she realized that she had found her speaker: the team’s leader, Nando Parrado. So she went about tracking him down. First he turned her down. But she persisted, even sending him the book “On the Wings of Eagles,” about EDS CEO and founder Ross Perot. That was the hook. “I finally talked him into it,” she says.
When Parrado spoke at the EDS event, Davis says you could hear a pin drop in the audience of 700 or so people. “The chairman says, ‘You know what, kid? You should retire … you’ll never outdo this.’” Another challenge. Another challenge accepted, and two years later she started her speaker’s bureau. Her first speaker? Nando Parrado. “I think I’ve booked him 285 times … for a guy who didn’t want to speak at first, that’s pretty good,” says Davis.
This year marks GDA Speakers’ 20th anniversary. Parrado is still a client, as are many other inspirational presenters. “I really do think the right speaker can change lives,” says Davis.
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