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Overcoming Odds: Speakers Who Have Faced Crisis and Conquered

Mountain Summit Overcoming Odds Resilience
February 1, 2024

Inviting a speaker with a compelling story of overcoming adversity can be a powerful way to motivate, inspire, and equip your group to face its own challenges with greater confidence and resilience. Speakers who have faced crisis and conquered can bring value to your next event.

These public and keynote speakers have weathered their own storms and emerged stronger and wiser. They have the unique ability to share their hard-won insights and equip your team with the tools and strategies they need to anticipate, manage, and overcome any crisis that may come their way.

From all disciplines and industries, here are our top choices for speakers who have faced crisis and conquered.

Paul Nicklen Photography | Leopard Seal | Copyright

Paul Nicklen

National Geographic Photographer and Filmmaker, Marine Biologist, Global Expedition Leader, Co-Founder of SeaLegacy, ESG Brand Ambassador, One of our planet’s most awarded conservation photographers and storytellers

As evidenced by his heartfelt, true story blog posts, Paul Nicklen doesn’t shy away from sharing the experiences he’s encountered while photographing on assignment for National Geographic. His stories illustrate his belief that recovery for our planet’s ecosystem is possible. They sometimes detail rare encounters with animals, like the time a leopard seal lunged toward him in the Ross Sea, or the time he opened a window to connect with a female polar bear in Svalbard.

“Over the decades, I have learned that the greatest things in life rarely come easy,” writes Nicklen. If your audience would benefit from a speech filled with wonder, astounding photographs, and most of all, hope, consider inviting Paul Nicklen to speak at your next engagement.

Defeating the odds in Climate & Environmental Issues

Erika Ayers Badan

Marketing and Advertising Powerhouse; Former CEO of Barstool Sports; One of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in Sports

Erika Ayers Badan become the CEO of Barstool Sports in 2016 and led the company through undeniably difficult changes through 2024. Ayers Badan withstood the exponential growth of Barstool’s workforce and relocation of their headquarters, the company’s expansion into new medias, and the sale and buy-back of the company. All the while, Ayers Badan grew the company’s revenue by over 5,000% while the simple fact that she’s a woman in leadership raised eyebrows.

If your audience would benefit from a corporate leader with a true track record who provides valuable insights about personal and career growth, Erika Ayers Badan is the perfect choice.

Defeating the odds in BusinessArts & EntertainmentLeadership & Management

Sheila Bair

Preeminent Financial Reform and Policy Innovator, Former Chairman of Fannie Mae (2020-2022); Former President of Washington College, 19th Chair of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Author

As the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman during the biggest market crash of modern times, Sheila Bair certainly makes the cut for leaders who have navigated crisis and come out on top. She steered the FDIC through the worst financial upheaval since the Great Depression. From 2008-2011, Ms. Bair worked to bolster public confidence in the nation’s banking system.

Bair’s long and distinguished career in government, academia, and finance has found her widely respected for her expertise in financial regulation and consumer protection and acknowledged by Forbes as the “second most powerful woman in the world.”

Defeating the odds in Finance & EconomyLeadership & Management

Mike Pence

48th Vice President of the United State; Founder of Advancing American Freedom; 50th Governor of Indiana; Former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Indiana; Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation; Author

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence arrive to the Salute to America event Thursday, July 4, 2019, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence arrive to the Salute to America event Thursday, July 4, 2019, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has faced a crossroads at several times throughout his career in politics. Some of the hurdles he has overcome include losing his first two congressional elections to the Democratic incumbent nominee, leading the COVID-19 Task Force during the pandemic, and facing numerous media storms alongside one of the most controversial American presidents in modern history. Pence’s role in the infamous insurrection that took place on January 6, 2021 is a well-known and widely discussed example of the former VP facing a crisis head-on, and his decisions on that day have been commended by his fans and critics alike.

Despite these obstacles, Vice President Pence has emerged with confidence and success. He has authored two best-selling books and remained steady in his conservative beliefs. He founded Advancing American Freedom, a policy and advocacy based on traditional American values. If your organization can benefit from firsthand accounts of facing chaos in governance, Mike Pence is an excellent choice for a speaker.

Defeating the odds in Government & PoliticsHealthcare & Wellness (during the pandemic) • GeopoliticsLeadership & Management

Ambassador Deborah Birx

Physician, Diplomat, CEO of Armata Pharmaceuticals, Former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Author of Silent Invasion, Former United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Chief Medical and Scientific Adviser of ActivePure Technology

Dr. Deborah Birx

Dr. Deborah Birx is a leading medical expert known for gracefully navigating complex global health issues with a scientific and data-driven approach. She worked diligently on trials and therapeutics for various diseases before serving as White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator from 2020-2021.

Facing criticism for her reluctance to correct some of former President Trump’s odd remarks regarding the pandemic was surely a difficult scenario, but it was certainly not Dr. Birx’s first nor most climactic encounter with a crisis. One could argue that being tasked with offering effective therapeutics at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic was much more daunting. From 1982-2003, Dr. Birx led an influential HIV vaccine trial and provided important contributions to understanding the disease in the military, where she was promoted to colonel. She then switched gears to help former President George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program.

Dr. Birx rests easy on her strong foundational knowledge and propels forward, educating the public about virology and empowering young females in STEM. Her informative and inspirational remarks are well-regarded by audiences of all kinds.

Defeating the odds in Healthcare & WellnessLeadership & Management

Larry Hogan

62nd Governor of the State of Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Nov. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Nov. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Only a few months after being elected and serving in office, Governor Larry Hogan was beset by back-to-back crises: one in the national spotlight and one in his personal life. The first was dealing with the worst riots and civil unrest in a generation. The second was battling life-threatening cancer.

Governor Hogan’s leadership through both these difficulties drew both national and international praise and commendation—from the President to the Pope, to business leaders, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. His ability to tell personal stories and relate them to all kinds of audiences differentiate him from other political speakers.

Defeating the odds in Government & PoliticsHealthcare & WellnessLeadership & Management

DeMaurice Smith

Former Executive Director, National Football League Players Association (NFLPA)

Former Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) was a demanding position that caught DeMaurice Smith by surprise. Smith was working as a trial lawyer and litigation partner in Washington, D.C. when he received a phone call that he’d been nominated for the position with NFLPA.

Upon his initial election, ESPN opined that Smith had assumed “the toughest job in all of sports,” having succeeded the late Gene Upshaw and facing the most contentious and public labor/management battles in history. As Executive Director of the Player’s Union, he has negotiated two comprehensive collective bargaining agreements and is the longest serving Executive Director of a major sport union. As the Chief Executive Officer of the NFLPA’s for profit company Player’s Incorporated, he has guided annual revenues to over $200M and witnessed the largest growth in player’s marketing and licensing. He has been named one of the top ten most influential executives in sports and can advise industries of all kinds on labor and legal issues.

Defeating the odds in Arts & EntertainmentBusinessLeadership & Management

Olga Koroleva

Founder & CEO, Capital Brain; Real Estate Entrepreneur; High Altitude Mountaineer

As a technology pioneer in capital markets, entrepreneur, and world-class mountaineer, Olga Koroleva’s triumphs are limitless… both in the boardroom and on the mountain! She is the founder and CEO of Capital Brain, a company that creates AI-run investment strategies to invest in real estate and public securities. An adventurer by nature, she has also completed over 40 expeditions, summiting the highest, the deadliest, and the hardest mountains on the planet (Mount Everest, Annapurna I, and K2).

Koroleva is passionate about motivating others to live with a “peak performance” mindset. The lessons she has gleaned over the course of her career deliver an exciting and insightful presentation to audiences of all kinds.

Defeating the odds in AIBusinessLeadership & Management

Ryan Dusick

Founding Drummer of Maroon 5, Therapist, Speaker, Author of Harder to Breathe: A Memoir of Making Maroon 5, Losing It All, & Finding Recovery

Ryan Dusick dedicates his life’s work to helping others overcome their struggles. Having worked for a decade to build the worldwide fame and success of Maroon 5 as their founding drummer, Dusick suffered through his darkest days when a physical and psychological breakdown forced him to walk away from that life and career. As a result, he struggled with addiction and identity crisis. But Dusick refused to let that disappointment define him and found a new passion and purpose in a deeply fulfilling career in mental health. Dusick’s journey will inspire hope within audiences that recovery is possible and astounding things can come with it.

Defeating the odds in Arts & EntertainmentDiversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Jason Schechterle

Keynote Presenter & Motivational Speaker, Former Phoenix Police Officer

If you are looking for a lifechanging, meaningful speaker to enlighten your group, look no further than Jason Schechterle. Schechterle was a police officer when he became trapped inside of his burning Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicle. He suffered extreme burns to over 40% of his body which dramatically altered his appearance. He represents the human experience at its very best—an uphill climb from despair to describing himself as the luckiest person alive today. His incredible story of survival is now his calling. He shares a new perspective on life, rebirth, and transformation in an event that your audience will never forget.

Defeating the odds in Motivation

Steve Wozniak

“The Woz;” Co-founder of Apple Computer, Inc.; Co-founder of Efforce; Chief Scientist at Primary Data; Best Selling Author of iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon

Vintage Wozniak Apple

Steve Wozniak is known as one of the geniuses who founded Apple computers, but the rumors of him butting heads with cofounder Steve Jobs are well-known and substantiated. With Apple, Wozniak always wanted the products to be easy to use and accessible to everyone. He wanted to share their designs with the public hoping that users can modify them and make them even better. Steve Jobs did not agree with this mentality, which led to friction between the two and ultimately, Wozniak’s departure from the company.

Despite the end of his role at Apple, Steve Wozniak continues to be a sought-after technology guru. He delivers inspiring speeches, teaches, and he invented the first universal remote. His commentary on AI and other trending technological advances are widely respected, and he is known as one of the greatest living technological innovators of modern times.

Defeating the odds in AITechnology & Innovation

After reading this article, it’s easy to understand why hiring speakers who have overcome the odds and conquered personal and professional hardships can inspire your audience. These qualified storytellers can represent a wide array of verticals, including AI and technology, climate and environmental issues, business, health and wellness, finance and economy, government and politics, and arts and entertainment. Contact WWSG to get the speaking availability of any of the above speakers plus hundreds more. We represent any thought leader who graces the stage to address audiences and we will make your experience hiring a speaker seamless.

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