When you think “positive” speaker, it’s easy to go with the big names in speaking: your Tony Robbins or your Zig Ziglers. But I enjoy listening to what those who don’t have the huge fan bases, yet, have to say. It’s easier to listen to someone when I know they aren’t necessarily going to try and sell me something once they reach the end. That’s why, with this post, I want to discuss Ben Saunders.
On the surface, Ben is just another adrenaline-junkie-turned story teller. But damn if he isn’t one of the best story tellers you’ve ever heard. He’s actually been on the scene at least a decade now, having spoken at TED conferences beginning back in 2002. And they call him a “master story teller”, so you know I’m not just saying it. The man takes one of his once-in-a-lifetime adventures and spins a captivating yarn, taking it from snow peaks and Sherpas to finding success in the mundane. How he makes that leap look so easy is beyond me, but it’s always fun to hear him speak.
First of all, he has an English accent, which always makes it easier to hear someone ramble for extended periods of time. Secondly, he has some of the best self-deprecating lines I’ve heard, and I watched Conan nightly when he was on NBC. Back in 2012, when he started his TED talk, rather than say he is going on a lot of dog sledding or mountain climbing expeditions, he starts out with “I essentially drag sledges for a living, so it doesn’t take an awful lot to flummox me intellectually”. I feel like that’s something a comedy writer from BBC would come up with, and he has me hooked from the very beginning.
What’s refreshing about Saunders is yes, he bases most, if not all, of his speeches around climbing mountains. He talks about men achieving ridiculous climbs, even in the early 1900s. But his talks lack the alpha male chest puffing that so many speakers have when using this subject as a leaping off point. The way he addresses the audience is that he’s somehow just a regular guy; he just happens to be a regular guy who’s been several miles off the ground on a mountain somewhere. He never comes off preachy or switches into drill sergeant mode; rather, he prefers to describe an impressive feat, and then empowers you.
Saunders isn’t about getting you to go out and conquer Everest. He just wants you to conquer your Everest. And he does it by being soft-spoken and relatable. For as exciting as his life is, he remains relaxed and approachable, and not the typical Human-Mountain Dew can so many other extreme sports athletes are.
My favorite thing he’s ever spoken about is how we have such easy access to information that it almost makes leaving the house irrelevant. About how we don’t have explorers anymore because we already know everything. But he leaves us with the thought that if we stop going out there, we lose our courage; we lose our exploratory wonder. And with that, I feel like I can go out there and conquer anything.