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January 7, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Social Change Advocate, Spencer West

Spencer West lost his legs when he was just five years old, but he hasn’t let that stop him from achieving tremendous accomplishments in his life. Whether it is helping build a school in Kenya, or reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro solely by using his arms, Spencer inspires millions of people to overcome their challenges and reach even the most seemingly impossible of goals. We’re thrilled to put our spotlight on Spencer, below:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

In 2008, I went on a volunteer adventure to Kenya with Me to We to build a school for Free The Children. It was on this trip that I saw firsthand the power of international development and saw, not only how Free The Children was breaking the cycle of poverty, but more importantly how I could be a part of it.

Helping to build a school was incredible, but the moment that inspired me to become a speaker happened when I got to spend some time with the kids attending the Free The Children schools. After telling them my story and how I lost my legs to a genetic disease, a young girl raised her hand. This girl then said to me she didn’t know something like this, meaning the loss of my legs, could happen to white people. That was the moment I realized there was value to my story and that I could potentially use it to inspire others to look at challenges differently. But I could also use it on behalf of Free The Children to continue to help change the world.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Two things:

1.       Staying humble is key.

2.       To quote Scott Berkun in regard to speaking, “the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.”

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I want audiences to walk away empowered to make a difference in their community, whether it be local or global.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

A few tic tacs and a heavy application of Burts Bee’s.

Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?

After a keynote at  a high school, I opened it up to a Q&A. The first question a male student asked me was, “boxers or briefs?” I figured if he had the courage to ask, I had no choice but to respond. There’s nothing more intimate or memorable than announcing your personal choice of undergarments to an audience.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

Once during a speech I kept hearing a phone going off. It was a small venue so it was quite noticeable. After a minute or two I realized…it was mine. Oops!

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

Free The Children…is that biased?

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

I would love to be a musician or maybe on the Broadway stage. Or a cast member on Glee.

Desert island album?

Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill.

Best subject in school?

English and anything dealing with communication. It will come as no shock that I have my BA in Communications.

Last book you read?

Inferno by Dan Brown.

Last film you saw?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Celebrity crush?

I’m not telling, what if they read this!