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Interview with Stephen Venables

Stephen Venables has climbed Everest and continues to amaze audiences. Learn more about his talks and his most memorable experiences below.

What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?

You don’t have to be uniquely fortunate or talented to achieve great things.  What matters is how you cope with inevitable bad luck, but equally make the most of your good luck, seizing life’s opportunities, learning from team mates and relishing the thrill of the big project.

 

What is the most unique experience you have had as a keynote speaker?

I once did an illustrated Everest talk in a packed parish church.  We back-projected from the altar onto a huge sheet of whitewashed polythene sheet stretched over  the church crossing. It’s the only time I’ve talked from a pulpit.

The most challenging, though, was for an outdoor corporate event.  They asked me to do an illustrated keynote speech.  The only snag with that was that the delegates were gathered in a white marquee on a very sunny midsummer morning.  This was the pre-digital era and the projected slides were opaque to the point of invisibility. Never mind, it gave the audience an opportunity to use its imagination, and me the necessity to paint vivid word pictures.

Perhaps the most surprising for the audience was the time when I was recuperating from a Himalayan accident, with both legs in plaster.  Defying all the doctors’ warnings about the risk of post-operative infection, my  wife sprang me from hospital and drove me up to the conference centre.  The assembled British Gas managers were astounded to see their keynote speaker  manoeuvred in on an NHS wheel chair.

 

Where does your climbing passion stem from?

It all started with walking, scrambling and skiing in the mountains and wanting to get onto the steeper more interesting bits.  Few things beat the intense tactile pleasure and mental stimulus of rock climbing.  On big mountains you add snow and ice  – and at times an element of danger – for a richer multi-media experience.  It all stems from the desire to immerse yourself totally in the big journey.

 

What is the most dangerous situation you have found yourself in?

Alone on the summit of Everest, at four o’clock in the afternoon, without the benefit of supplementary oxygen. My great fear had always been that I might just be strong enough to reach the top without oxygen, but would I have the reserves to get back down again?  The sky had clouded over, it was starting to snow, in three hours it would be dark.  My two companions had already turned back and our tents and sleeping bags were a thousand metres lower down.  I really had to force myself to get a grip and keeping moving downwards.

 

What type of audience benefits most from your keynotes?

I have addressed audiences of all ages, all over the world.  Any audience enjoys a good story.  However, in the corporate world, perhaps the people who benefit most are those facing difficult, uncertain times. Mountaineers thrive on uncertainty: it’s what makes us tick.  And the joy is to share that sense of adventure with other people.

 

Click here to see Stephen Venables’ profile

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