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Warren Macdonald

February 19, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Warren Macdonald, “Shifting Your Perception On Change”

Warren Macdonald has climbed over obstacles most people cannot imagine. Having lost both of his legs from a freak accident while he was backpacking off the coast of Australia, Macdonald not only decided that his injuries wouldn’t slow him down―he decided they would propel him to new heights. Just ten months after the incident, Warren climbed Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain and later summited both Mount Kilimanjaro and El Capitan. Inspiring audiences to turn challenge into change, Warren’s talks foster the desire to seek opportunities and overcome obstacles. We’re thrilled to put Warren in our spotlight today:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

I didn’t really set out to become a speaker; it kind of “fell into my lap” so to speak…at least in the beginning. As more and more groups approached me to hear my story, I realized that the real challenge lay in communicating what my story meant to them. So then, it became about the challenge of getting better as a speaker. Now, it’s about making a difference, inspiring others to make a difference, and to help others get clarity on what it is they want to create.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Be you. Get yourself on the platform any way you can so you can become comfortable up there; but not too slick. Audience these days want you to be authentic, and they’ll switch off in an instant if they sense you’re not being real with them. They want to feel a connection. You do, too.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

First up, I don’t do the “rah, rah, let’s all pump our fists in the air,” kind of motivational speech. Honestly, I leave the room when I see someone doing that.  It’s 2014, not 1984…I don’t aim for folks to leap to their feet at the end of my presentation. What I aim for is a moment’s silence where you can almost hear the gears turning in peoples heads, before they take a deep breath in realizing–“I need to step it up. I can do this!”

I want to send people back out into the world with a new way of seeing, with an understanding that building resilience means practicing resilience, and that they, too, can adapt to and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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

I need to have a good understating of who’s in my audience and what their challenges are. That way, I can go through and pick out the stories and lessons I think they need to hear. Every speech has to be different for me–I’d be bored out of my brain if it was the same each time.

Rituals: I go over my notes within an hour or two of my presentation and transfer them to 3″ x 4″ note cards in bullet points. I don’t do it the night before, and I never use the same note cards twice. It has to be one of the last things I do before taking the platform. And here’s the thing: I don’t remember the last time I had to peek at those notes whilst on the platform. There’s just something to knowing they’re there that’s reassuring. Oh, and for good luck I always carry my water bottle under my chair.

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

Sometimes a meeting planner will get all wigged out about stage access, with my wheelchair and all, and every now and then there will be a problem with the wheelchair ramp. Like there being no wheelchair ramp 🙂 I’ll explain that it’s not a big deal, that I’ll work around it.

One time, at a small theatre in Toronto, I went on after the Blue Man Group.I didn’t know who they were, or what they did, and during rehearsal I’d assured the meeting planner that, really, access wasn’t an issue and that I’d just wheel up to the base of the 5″ tall stage and haul myself up. “Seriously, it will be a piece of cake…” Guess who ended up covered in paint and going through their entire keynote sitting on squishy marshmallows?

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

Speaking at a high school years ago, we got to the Q & A and I made the mistake of pointing to a guy who, along with having his hand up and a huge smile spread across his face, was surrounded by sniggering friends.

“So, you lost your legs under that rock, did you like, lose anything else?”

If looks could kill, the guy would have gone up in smoke as every teacher in the room shot daggers at him! I stayed as calm as I could, and said,”Don’t you worry about that. Everything down there works just fine” 🙂

Desert island album?

Wow, that’s a tough one. If I was happy enough to be there I’d probably settle back with Angus and Julia Stones Down The Way. If I wanted the hell off of the island, I’d go for Metallica’s Master of Puppets to get all fired up and out!

Best subject in school?

English.

Last book you read?

Joe Calloway’s’ Be the Best at what Matters Most.

Last film you saw?

Blokes You Can Trust, the documentary on Australian alt-grunge rockers, The Cosmic Psychos.

Where do you live, and why?

One of the things I love most about speaking is that I can live anywhere, and something that’s always been important to me is my connection to nature, so I choose to live in places of natural beauty. Right now, I live in the Canadian Rockies in Canmore, Alberta. It’s the perfect combination of being close enough to an airport, while being surrounded by the rugged beauty of the mountains.