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. 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.