Ben Saunders: How To Get Seemingly Impossible Things Done
Record-Breaking Polar Explorer, TED ‘Master Storyteller,’ and Advocate for Future Pioneers
- Completed the longest-ever polar journey on foot
- Third person in history to ski solo to both the North and South poles
- Three-time main stage TED speaker, and a TED “Master Storyteller," featured in the NYT bestseller, TED Talks: The Official Guide to Public Speaking
- Striking visuals, engaging stories and relatable, immediately applicable lessons for life and for business; tailored for the main stage and for virtual events
- Engages and inspires through a journey that demonstrates that "no one else is the authority on your potential"
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The challenges of leading and performing in isolation, something people all over the world over have been introduced to, are familiar terrain to Ben Saunders. Navigating and overcoming self-doubt, loneliness, uncertainty, and adversity in pursuit of a goal is what makes Saunders a record-breaking polar explorer, and an invaluable speaker in uncertain times.
While the achievements of this world-leading adventurer are deeply inspiring in their own right, it is the hard-won life lessons etched within each voyage – totaling 4,400 miles and more than a year spent in complete isolation in the harshest environments on the planet – which prove most valuable and applicable to his audiences. Faced with some of the world’s most unforgiving conditions, Saunders has learned the necessity of growing through failure, how to control the controllables in fast-changing and unpredictable environments, and that courage in the face of fear is what strengthens your self-belief.
His achievements are at the outer limits of human endeavor. Saunders gained notoriety for leading the longest human-powered polar journey in history; a 108-day return journey to the South Pole on foot that spanned 1,800 miles – the equivalent of 69 back-to-back marathons, dragging 200 kg (440lbs) of food and supplies in his sled. Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, Saunders describes this unprecedented journey as “a tough camping trip,” with the type of humorous and understated reflection that makes him such a likeable and engaging speaker.
Using a dash in his expedition diary at the end of each day, Saunders tracks his progress – a practice which reminds him, even in the darkest of hours, how far he has come. In his expeditions to becoming the third person in history to reach both poles solo and unassisted, there were a cumulative 124 dashes, including several weeks alone in Antarctic conditions recognized as “the worst in 25 years.” In addition, Saunders is the youngest person to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. He has also climbed in the Nepalese Himalayas, worked as an instructor at the John Ridgway School of Adventure, competed as a cyclist at a national level, and run seven marathons and three ultra-marathons.
From the main stage at TED to small screens around the world, Saunders is a sought-after and acclaimed motivational speaker. Featured in the New York Times best-seller TED Talks: The Official Guide to Public Speaking, and labeled a ‘master storyteller’ by TED, his three main-stage appearances at the conference have been viewed more than five million times. Through his real-time journal entries, stunning visual content, and earnest reflections, he takes audiences on a physical and psychological journey into the unknown. Whether he’s speaking to global corporations or pioneering start-ups, in-person or online, his honesty, humor, and humility enable people to find parallels between his other-worldly experiences and their real-world realities.
Knowing intimately both the wonder and the fragility of the natural world, Saunders is a powerful advocate for its future. It is a thread which runs through the expeditions he leads, the stories he tells, the future pioneers he mentors, and the brands he endorses.
Staying Motivated and Resilient in Isolation. In many ways Ben Saunders is the ultimate ‘remote worker.’ On his record-breaking solo expeditions, he has to perform at the highest level while several thousand miles away from his colleagues and team that he has to be willing to trust with his life. This physical fragmentation – rich in logistical and psychological challenges – is something businesses and their leaders the world over have been plunged into in recent times.
This new normal is what makes Saunders such a valuable, timely, and relevant speaker. Drawing on his experiences – of more than a year spent cumulatively alone in the Arctic and Antarctica – he shares his hard-won lessons on sustaining resilience, personal motivation and emotional wellbeing when the chips are down.
Making Honest Communication Easy. “The more remote you are, the more your ability to communicate openly, honestly and frankly becomes a lifeline.” Understanding how human truths can be hidden behind digital platforms – and knowing first-hand the harmful impact this can have on high-performance teams – Saunders offers business leaders and their people tangible examples of how to remove the barriers to open communication, and to streamline their collaborative effectiveness.
Controlling the Controllables. In an era when global headlines have painted a challenging, unpredictable, and seemingly insurmountable outlook, Saunders gives audiences a compelling insight into the value of optimizing physical, emotional, and psychological energy – both individually and collectively – through an immediately applicable masterclass on the vital importance of focus.
Operating and performing in the polar regions over two decades, he has learned the futile nature of expending his own precious and finite energy on elements outside of his control. “The fear at a cloud pattern signaling a storm, or the anger at a persistent headwind are a waste of energy. They are factors and variables that I cannot change.”
During a period when emotional and psychological reserves are under greater strain than ever before, Ben’s story has a unique capacity to motivate an audience to remain present, positive, and purposeful.
Dealing with Change and Overcoming Adversity. Saunders has had to adapt to operating environments that are constantly in flux. Fighting against these vast natural forces is hopeless; success and survival depend solely on his ability to flex with them.
In the depths of his longest-ever expedition – nearly four months in Antarctica – Ben made the decision to call in an air drop of food as hypothermia and exhaustion threatened him and his teammate. He describes a sense of failure in the moment, but also a vital decision he now views as the proudest of his career – made in the face of adversity, and an object lesson in the importance of being willing to ask for help.
Investing in the Journey, Not the Destination. For the majority of his adult life, Saunders was driven by a singular ambition: to be the first to complete the Antarctic journey that had defeated Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Scott – 1,800 miles on foot to the South Pole and back. The achievement of this goal after more than a decade of focus and sacrifice forced a rewriting of his own definition of success. “I used to see success as a finish line – achieving your goal. A literal threshold at some point in the future. To me now, success looks more like continuing to strive well. In business, of course, there is no finish line.”
At a time when the inclination to yearn for a sunnier future is palpable, this remarkable story of the expectation and the reality of achievement is compelling, essential listening.
Exploring the Pioneer in All of Us. “Necessity breeds invention; in 2020 companies had to pivot or concede.” On expeditions in profoundly hostile and uncertain climates – where the best-laid plans invariably and inevitably dissipate – Saunders has had to improvise with severely limited resources. This metaphorical scenario is being faced by businesses around the world, and there is no better qualified guide in this crucial test of leadership.
Being the Only Authority on Your Potential. As a master storyteller, and supported by spectacular visuals, Saunders takes audiences on a journey from uncertainty, fear and self-doubt, to eventually raising the bar in one of the most demanding fields imaginable. It is a life journey that gives evidence to his belief that “impossible is just someone else’s opinion”, that unravels the mysterious roots of perseverance, and delivers insight on how to make the best use of the traits and potential we all possess, but all-too-rarely employ to their fullest.
His story of self-belief (a human quality Saunders views as “a muscle – you can only make it stronger by stretching, testing and challenging it”) is fused with practical and applicable lessons on “getting difficult things done in difficult environments”; selecting and managing teams, preparing meticulously, knowing when to pivot – or to seek help, and fulfilling individual and organizational potential, no matter how steep the odds.
WOW, WOW, WOW, he was fantastic! The feedback was great. He did a great job of connecting his travels to lessons learned and related it to business. We will have him again!
I just wanted to sincerely thank Ben for a brilliant closing keynote, everyone absolutely loved it! He was amazing and it was a perfect end to our day.
Well done and thank you to all of those involved in the planning for the NEU Day. I understand it went very well and Ben Saunders’ talk about his adventures in a tough environment was inspirational. It might just get me through the rest of lockdown!
Hey Ben, I wanted to say thanks for your talk during the WEX annual meeting. Much of what you expressed hit home as a 43 year old guy myself. I appreciate you not going corporate buzzword crazy like most past speakers and for going deeper into your true experience.
I wanted to personally thank you so much for that talk! Everyone was smiling, laughing, texting, emailing, you name it – just saying how fantastic that was. I know you have probably heard it a million times, but you really are a great, super articulate, and engaging speaker. It was a real pleasure to listen to you speak to your journey and the personal insight gained through the years. I have a feeling next time we have a live meeting (hopefully sooner than later, after these lockdowns!), everyone is going to want to fly you in just to hang out with us!!!
It has been the most inspiring talk ever by any speaker I have listened to. Thank you so much. It has been very motivating
Thank you very much for joining us yesterday and delivering your outstanding talk against Achieving the Impossible. Really good presentation, lots of humour, down to earth and good life lessons. I’ve had fabulous feedback from across the organisation – both relating to the stories you told, things that people learnt about polar exploration history, and frankly that you were such a nice guy! A highlight of the day.
One of the best presentations I've experienced. Ben's talk was absolutely brilliant. I was riveted to my seat just listening to him.
As a company we have come across many inspirational and entertaining storytellers and Ben Saunders is among the best. Adventure, humour, thrills, despair, achievement and success all packaged into a highly compelling and very well delivered speech.
Personally I was completely absorbed, but more importantly, I have rarely seen this audience so captivated by a speaker before. When we booked you I was a little apprehensive about how you would be received by our diverse, demanding audience, but my doubts were immediately allayed by both the content and the delivery. Your talk was the highlight of our event.
I just wanted to convey my thanks to Ben for speaking at our Ambition Nation event yesterday morning. It was great and we have had some amazing feedback. I personally got some great takeaways about self belief and simply the power of that alone.
You gave us all a wonderful start to the day and your story and experiences resonated so well with the nursing leaders in the room. You have inspired so many of us to understand our own selves and be in charge of our own potential. Whilst reinforcing the significant value of team work based on trust, even when it is a team of two along with the passion to reach your goal amongst all the odds.
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