Speakers with Incredible & Inspiring Real-Life Stories


We all face things that make us doubt our abilities from time to time. Whether your organization is facing a difficult operating environment, a tricky restructuring, or is simply stuck in a rut, setting aside time to come together as a team and hear from someone who has been there and come out on the other side can make all the difference. The following speakers move audiences to leapfrog hurdles in their own lives. Their stories have the power to lift your team up and spark real change.

Speakers with incredible & inspiring real-life stories

  • Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, NASA Astrophysicist & Author of the Upcoming Book, Hacking the Stars: My Unlikely Journey Through Space and Time
  • Colin O'Brady, 4-Time World Record Holder & 1st Person to Cross Antarctica Solo, Unsupported, & Unaided
  • Dr. Erika Hamden, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Arizona & 2019 TED Fellow
  • Robert O'Neill, Former Navy SEAL Team Six Leader & New York Times Best-Selling Author of The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior
  • Col. Nicole Malachowski, America’s First Female Thunderbird Pilot
  • Ben Saunders, World-Record Breaking Polar Explorer & Repeat TED Speaker
  • Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of Charity: Water
  • Erik Weihenmayer, World-Class Blind Adventurer
  • Angie Bastian, Founder of BoomChickaPop
  • Paul de Gelder, Navy Diver, Shark Attack Survivor, & Author
  • Dominique Dawes, 3-Time Olympic Gymnast and Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Shon Hopwood, Associate Law Professor at Georgetown University Law Center
  • Vernice ArmourFirst African American Female Combat Pilot
  • Melissa StockwellUS Army 1st Lieutenant, Paralympic Medalist, & World Champion Triathlete
  • William McNultyCo-Founder of Team Rubicon
  • Rick Stanton & John VolanthenCave Divers Who Played A Pivotal Role In The 2018 Tham Luang Rescue

Keep reading for more information about each of these individuals below and click on the links below to check out each of their speaker profile pages for more specifics about their background, their areas of specialty, and get a preview of them speaking to a large audience on stage at a recent event.

Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi

NASA Astrophysicist & Author of the Upcoming Book, Hacking the Stars: My Unlikely Journey Through Space and Time

Born into deep poverty in Mississippi, Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi grew up in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country. He realized a love of science and space at a young age and, despite near constant discouragement, went on to obtain three degrees, 12 patents for inventions in modern computer chips, and to work on Nobel Prize-winning research projects. Funny, warm, honest, and inspiring, Hakeem moves audiences to never give up. A leading astrophysicist, educator, and humanitarian TED Fellow, Oluseyi trounced race and class to become an important contributor to computer technology and space research. Back on Earth, he's doing all he can to give young and underfunded scientists a chance to reach for the stars. Watch Dr. Oluseyi’s TED Talk where he explains infinity in three minutes below:

Colin O'Brady

4-Time World Record Holder & 1st Person to Cross Antarctica Solo, Unsupported, & Unaided

In 2008, while on a trip abroad, Colin O’Brady suffered a tragic accident and was severely burned in a fire. Despite being told he might never walk again, Colin went on to shatter two world records and a world first as a mountaineer and explorer. He is the first person to ever cross Antarctica solo, and he holds the record for the fastest climb of the Seven Summits (132 days) and the Explorer’s Grand Slam (139 days). In a presentation packed with stunning videos, he took himself at the ends of the Earth, Colin encourages audiences to dare to dream and embrace the growth mindset he has used throughout his life to achieve greatness. Watch Colin’s presentation about his journey to summit the seven tallest mountains after suffering severe burns and how he learned that by changing your mindset, you can achieve anything:

Dr. Erika Hamden

Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Arizona & 2019 TED Fellow

Dr. Erika Hamden is currently leading a team building a new UV space telescope called FIREBall for NASA. She recently delivered a show-stopping talk at TED 2019 and got real about the challenges that come with trying to create something new. “I’ve realized that discovery is mostly a process of finding things that don’t work, and failure is inevitable when you’re pushing the limits of knowledge,” Hamden said. She explains how she has persevered through the toughest failures of her life, and why–despite her telescope crash landing in 2018—she’s not giving up any time soon. Watch Dr. Erika Hamden’s TED Talk presentation below:


Robert O'Neill

Former Navy SEAL Team Six Leader & New York Times Best-Selling Author of The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior

One of the most popular speakers on the circuit, this former US Navy SEAL continues to receive rave reviews. In fact, one client said, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and Rob is the best public speaker I’ve ever seen. Ever!” With his captivating storytelling and motivating messages, as well as his humor and charisma, this comes as no surprise. Rob’s mottos—“Never quit,” “Complacency kills,” and “Don’t let your fears give way to panic”—resonate with any audience facing a big goal or a desire to be better. Watch Rob O’Neill’s talk at Google where he discusses what it takes to be successful in high performance teams using examples from his time as a US Navy Seal below:

Col. Nicole Malachowski

America’s First Female Thunderbird Pilot

Colonel Nicole Malachowski was a breakout star on the lecture circuit this year and we’re so happy to be working with her. It’s hard to watch her talk without getting emotional—she covers both her ascendance to become the First Woman Thunderbird Pilot in the Air Force and how she was ultimately forced to retire due to a medical condition. Nicole speaks honesty about drawing on inner strength and having the courage to say your goal out loud and ask questions like, “Why not me?”. Watch Col. Malachowski talk about the headwinds of change and how we can all turn headwinds into tailwinds below:

Ben Saunders

World-Record Breaking Polar Explorer & Repeat TED Speaker

Ben Saunders’s incredible feats of endurance challenge conventional wisdom and prove what can be accomplished through ambition, passion, and a refusal to quit. Best known for leading one of the most ambitious polar expeditions in a century, he was the first to successfully complete an epic, 105-day, 1,800-mile trek on foot to the South Pole. A speaker at three TED conferences, Ben uses stories and stunning visuals to illustrate and justify his beliefs that “No one else is the authority on your potential” and “Impossible is just someone’s opinion.” Watch Ben Saunder’s TED Talk about the hardest 105 days of his life, his journey to the South Pole and back:


Founder & CEO of Charity: Water

Scott Harrison launched his company Charity: Water with two huge goals: To turn the concept of what charity is on its head, and to eliminate the global water crisis in his lifetime. Today, he’s known for his innovative business model, which many investors said couldn’t work, and for funding water projects in 24 countries. He talks about making the change from being a night club promoter living a lavish lifestyle to becoming one of the world’s most-recognized philanthropists. He touches on why it’s never too late to make a change, how to solve problems with new ideas, and how to overcome obstacles with creativity and innovation. Watch Scott Harrison’s story of when he decided to turn his life around, why he chose water, the charity: water core values and the beginning of charity: water, why you should give up your birthday, and how we can end the global water crisis together:


World-Class Blind Adventurer

Despite losing his vision at age 14, Erik Weihenmayer is an accomplished climber, paraglider, skier, and kayaker who never allows blindness interfere with his passion for pursuing an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Weihenmayer sees his lack of sight as an opportunity, and he has managed to push past the anger, frustration, and fear. After making friends with other blind individuals who went rock climbing, he continued working on his craft and, at age 33, he became the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. His incredible story of determination and perseverance has been featured on The Today Show, Oprah, Good Morning America, and many more major media outlets. This year, an Award-Winning documentary about Erik and his latest adventure kayaking the Grand Canyon, entitled The Weight of Water was released. In speeches, he teaches audiences to follow his path and lead a "No Barriers" life, or a life without self-imposed limitations. Watch Erik Weihenmayer share his inspiring story of facing his greatest fears head-on, embodying his life motto of living life with “No Barriers,” and moving through darkness on his road to self-discovery:

angie bastian

Founder of BoomChickaPop

A business phenom and women’s advocate, Angie Bastian launched her namesake popcorn brand out of her garage in 2001 and created one of the fastest-growing snack brands in the country. So, how did she create a novel product with a fanatic fanbase in a crowded industry full of well-known brands? In down-to-earth, optimistic keynotes, she shares the secrets to her success, plus how to build a corporate culture that spurs innovation. Watch Angie talk about building something spectacular from nothing:

Paul de gelder

Navy Diver, Shark Attack Survivor, & Author

A long-time co-host of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, Paul de Gelder is an Australian-born Navy diver who lost two limbs in a shark attack in 2009. Attacked while diving for the Navy in Sydney Harbor, Paul was pulled out of the water barely alive. In the years that followed, he took the saying “Never say die” to a whole new level, fighting through pain to meet and exceed each new rehabilitation obstacle. He authored the best-selling autobiography No Time for Fear and embraced a gift for public speaking. Watch Paul share the story of his “worst nightmare come to life” and how he practices happiness, refuses to give in to self-doubt, and boldly charges ahead despite obstacles: 

dominique dawes

3-Time Olympic Gymnast and Olympic Gold Medalist

Three-time Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes is well-known for her incredible success at the 1996 Atlanta Games and four Olympic medals. What’s less known is Dominique’s difficult childhood and personal journey to overcome negative thoughts and develop strong, supportive relationships with her teammates. Her story is moving and packed with takeaways that will have your attendees feeling motivated to stop procrastinating, face failure head on, and build stronger relationships and skills at work and at home. Recently, Dominique had our team laughing and crying as she spoke on "the purpose of pain" :

 shon hopwood

Associate Law Professor at Georgetown University Law Center

In his early 20s, Shon Hopwood was sentenced to 11 years for robbing five banks in Nebraska. But that’s not where his story ends. Inside prison, he cultivated a passion for the law that resulted in an extremely rare feat: two certiorari he prepared for fellow inmates, with no proper law training, were granted review by the Supreme Court. After Shon’s release—and despite being told by 300-400 lawyers he would never join their ranks—he became a licensed attorney and well-known law professor at Georgetown. In speeches, Shon talks about the importance of setting goals and abandoning instant gratification, persevering, and tuning out discouraging voices. 

vernice armour

First African American Female Combat Pilot

It’s incredible to hear charismatic Amour talk about how, after the Combat Exclusion Policy was overturned by the Pentagon in 1994, she came across a female pilot at an ROTC career day and a dream was born. She went on to become a Captain, serve two tours in Iraq, and wrote the book, Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step Battle-tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter. Watch as she explains why strength has no gender: 

melissa stockwell

US Army 1st Lieutenant, 2016 Paralympic Bronze Medalist, & World Champion Triathlete

Melissa Stockwell shares her amazing journey from tragedy to triumph. She was just 24 when she lost her leg as the result of an IED explosion in Baghdad. She felt devastated and hopeless, until one day at Walter Reed Medical Center, when she looked around and thought, “How lucky am I to have just lost one leg?” Watch as she tells a TEDx audience about the importance of refusing to give up and “choosing your own story":

william mcnulty

Co-founder of Team Rubicon

Before founding Team Rubicon, William McNulty served for nine years in both the infantry and intelligence. He tells his personal story of coping with the service void in his life after his enlistment ended, and how a trip with a few friends to help in Haiti in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake led to a new career. Watch as he tells the story of the first Team Rubicon, and how one person altered the course of his life:

rick stanton & John volanthen

Cave Divers Who Played A Pivotal Role In The 2018 Tham Luang Rescue

Rick Stanton spent 25 years as a firefighter before retiring and John began caving with the scouts at the age of 14. Since then, John and Rick have been involved in exploring and mapping caves throughout the world, including the UK, Europe, and Malaysia. Recognized as two of the world’s leading cave divers, in 2018 they both played an integral role in locating and rescuing the Tham Luang youth soccer team. Rick and his diving partner, John, were the first to make contact with the team, and played a leading role in the rescue mission. Watch as Rick and John talk about the incredible rescue mission and the “ultimate responsibility” that is ensuring the safety of another human life:

For more information about these motivational speakers or to browse through our list of moving speakers with similar “unreal” true stories, visit our motivational speaker list page or explore our inspirational speaker list page.

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