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The Turning Point In My Speaking Journey - Chad E Foster

succeed through speaking tom bailey Dec 09, 2022

Tom Bailey, founder of Succeed Through Speaking, interviews Chad E. Foster.

In this episode we hear about our guests journey with confidence, public speaking and presentation skills and how it has helped them succeed in life and in business - in other words, how to succeed through speaking.

Imagine going blind at 21-years-old. Imagine never seeing another sunset. Never seeing your wife. Never seeing your children.

Imagine emerging from that experience seeing everything more clearly and living a life without eyesight that’s happier and more successful than before. I don’t have to imagine that. That’s the story of my life. Victims stay trapped. Visionaries bounce back.

I turned my obstacles into opportunities, becoming the first blind executive to graduate from the Harvard Business School leadership program, building software Silicon Valley said was impossible and helping millions of people around the world become successful while generating billions of dollars in the business world. Now I teach that same overcomer mindset to international audiences, delivering practical strategies to improve resilience in challenging circumstances. Helping others transform their adversity into advantage makes going blind worth it. I lost my vision to give you yours.

I've captured my life lessons in my recently published book, Blind Ambition, and I also deliver my high-impact keynote and workshop programs to conference audiences, leadership teams, sales teams, and professional athletes. I've spoken to leaders from organizations that include Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Google, GE, and Microsoft. I’d be honoured to inspire actions that drive outcomes at your next event.

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Succeed Through Speaking helps Coaches, Consultants, Entrepreneurs and Experts how to amplify their Expert Authority & get their message to market with both confidence and clarity so that they can raise their profile and attract new clients.

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Tom Bailey  00:07

Hello and welcome to succeed through speaking the place for experts and entrepreneurs who want high value ideas to boost business results. Hello, I'm Tom Bailey. And in today's speaker stories episode, I'll be getting to know Chad E. Foster, who is an author, a keynote speaker and a workshop facilitator. And having lost his eyesight at the young age of 21, he now helps his audiences to transform their adversity into advantage. So Chad, hello, and a very warm welcome to today's episode.

Chad E Foster  00:46

Extra pleasure to be here.

Tom Bailey  00:48

Awesome. Thank you so much for being here and just have interest for all of our listeners. Whereabouts in the world. Are you right now?

Chad E Foster  00:54

I live on the eastern side of the United States and Atlanta, Georgia.

Tom Bailey  00:59

Excellent. Thanks so much for sharing. And just to share as well, I know that you've also recently published a book called blind ambition, and are currently very much in demand delivering your high impact keynotes to large global audiences, currently, so today, I really want to talk to you about your experiences and challenges that you faced as a speaker. First question is, were you always a natural born confident speaker? Or is it really a skill you've had to develop over the previous few years?

Chad E Foster  01:29

Yeah, I think the short answer is I never really wanted to be a person in front of large crowds. And so I was always a confident person. amongst small groups, you know, talking amongst friends and things, I was never shy. The larger the group, though, I would say there was a sense of nervousness that would kick in anything over I don't know, 15 to 20 to 30 people. And I remember in college at university, we took a had a public speaking class, and I was terrified of speaking like, like a lot of people. And in fact, until I had this tipping point moment, I think of it sort of as my Ignite moment. I wasn't comfortable facing down the fear. So I was the kind of person who would avoid speaking in public simply because it wasn't that I wasn't a good speaker, I was a good speaker. I was just nervous, like, a lot of us getting up in front of, you know, hundreds of 1000s of people and taking the microphone with all eyes on you. It can be intimidating, right. And there are a lot of people out there. You know, they say people are more scared of public speaking than they are of dying. So they would literally rather be the person in the box than the person delivering the eulogy, just lately, pretty telling,

Tom Bailey  02:45

ya know, and I can really, really resonate with a lot of that. So you mentioned college, you mentioned, you know, that this tipping point for you? What's kind of your earliest memory of having to stand up and speak about your story? So obviously, you said like, you know, we'd said you'd lost your sight at age 21. When did you really start talking about that in front of audiences?

Chad E Foster  03:05

Well, you know, look, from time to time, people would tell me that I'd inspired them on my journey to this, you know, I was 21 years old, when I lost my eyesight. I went on to have a successful corporate career never really thought much about the unusual nature of my journey. Like I said, from time to time, people would tell me that I'd inspired them. And that usually happened when I was just trying to get to my next golden life. So I never really took any of that seriously. Until I had an experience while I was at Harvard Business School. And it was there. So my company that I was working for at the time, and this was back in 2015, so seven years ago. So late 30s, right. So 17 years had gone by 18 years had gone by since I've gone blind. And I brought in a lot of business for the company over $45 billion in contracts as a pricing strategist. And so they said, Hey, you brought in a lot of business for us, what can we do for you? And for some crazy reason, I said, Send me to Harvard. And for some crazy reason. They said, Okay, yeah, so they agreed, and they financed that and funded me to go there. And an interesting thing happened when I was there. I was studying with Bill George, who teaches about True North leadership, authentic leadership, and he's the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He's now an executive fellow at Harvard. I was actually with him yesterday at an event here in Atlanta promoting his new book Emerging Leader addition of true north really phenomenal leader. And, in fact, when he was there at Medtronic, you know, their market capitalization grew by 600% was 60 times Excuse me 60 times it went from 1 billion to 60 billion so really phenomenal leader to get to the point, you know, he, you know, he was he always teaches about how you can mind your life or things that presented you some challenges. that you can transform into opportunities to help people. And that really was something that resonated with me, I'd never really tried to do anything with my story. And it was there at Harvard, actually, that the seeds were sown, that I should do more with my story. And I was elected to speak at our graduation. So you know that I ended up giving a little talk there as a 12 minute talk, I had this, this unusual feeling that I was going to be elected even before I was nominated. And so I prepared for it. I had someone mentor me for it. And, you know, I gave it a short, little 12 minute talk that blew people away, and it blew me away, I saw firsthand how much I could help people. And, you know, I was really nervous. Obviously, I'm getting up in front of 250, fellow executives at Harvard Business School, talk about cutting your teeth and getting used to speaking in front of crowds. So I've definitely felt some pressure to perform. So I was nervous, but what powered me through it, Tom, what got me through it was focusing on the benefit I could bring to other people. So I tried to focus more on that than on sort of the the anxiety that was building up inside of me


Tom Bailey  06:12

great loves that really shifting the perspective from me to what I can deliver in terms of value for this audience. That's right. If you remember back to delivering that graduation speech, and you're stood up there, because you feel the energy in the room because you feel that you're inspiring people because you feel that kind of reflecting back on you.

Chad E Foster  06:32

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, being totally blind, right, I can't see the looks on people's faces. But you can certainly you can feel the energy coming back at you. And in fact, it's one of those things. Now, you know, as a professional speaker, this is what I do, many 5060 times a year. And what a difference it is giving a virtual talk versus a face to face talk, you know, we all came through COVID. And there were a lot of virtual talks. And I love to speak and I love to help people. But it really energizes me to do the face to face when you're doing a virtual talk. You don't feel the energy coming back at you like you do when you're in front of a crowd. And it's really energizing as a speaker.

Tom Bailey  07:14

Yeah, and I can't resonate with this. But I'm assuming that your other senses are amplified in the room so you can hear the movement and people chairs and the energy. Yeah, I love that

Chad E Foster  07:25

you pay more attention to that that evening in particular. In fact, there's a really poor video out there on YouTube that someone shot with their YouTube, excuse me with their iPhone and put it on YouTube. And you could hear at the beginning of my talk, you can hear the cutlery and the clanking around because it was right after dinner, which is not advisable from a speaking standoff. But it was a graduation ceremony. But you get here. And I pay attention to this. The further I get into my talk, there's just when I'm in between stories, dead dead silence, right, because everybody is just really listening attentively. Yeah, exactly. Which Yeah, that's when you know, you're on the right.

Tom Bailey  08:04

I love this. It's almost like, you kind of got the book, you know, for speaking at that point. And that really, you know, made my things move more towards you than going into this, this journey as a speaker. So I want to just talk about that next step. And so obviously, you got the book, you stood up and you felt that energy. Did you then go proactively looking for more speaking gigs? Or did people come to you?

Chad E Foster  08:30

I would say, I started looking, and I guess it was both people who attended that particular event. You know, they remembered that and they were so impacted by that, that they they came back to me and my classmates, but I started looking for them as well. And I realized, you know, that was a 12 minute talk to be a high impact speaker, I need more than 12 minutes of speaking content, I need at least you know, 55 minutes, 4560 minutes, because that's where most keynote sessions are. So I spent the next probably four to six months working on my first keynote, and it took a lot of time to come up with the right content. And then, of course, I've refined that over the years as well and develop new content and different programs. So I have my signature talk, which is blind ambition, same name in my book. But I also have a program on diversity. I have a program on comfort zones. I have workshops on how to build more resilience. And so I started building content, but I didn't really know at that time, how to connect the dots between what I had to say and people who wanted to hear it. And so, for the first several years of me speaking, it was a lot of word of mouth, people who had heard me speak referred me to have other people, you know, bring me in and have me speak there.

Tom Bailey  09:54

Right. It sounds like there's quite a lot of advice because a lot of people listening to this podcast are let's call them are aspiring speakers. So the advice I'd take from that is you need to take the time to develop that first keynote, choose your topic, create some great content. And then like you said, really just get yourself out there because that all built buildings, referrals built into word of mouth. And ultimately, you should start the ball rolling as such from a speaking perspective.

Chad E Foster  10:20

Yeah, I think a lot of it just to just to reiterate, I mean, content is so important. And I think as a professional speaker, you know, it's not just having differentiated content, which you've got to have differentiated content. But you've also it also has to be entertaining. And I think fun. And, and so there are a lot of things I thought about my particular story, Tom, my story, if I take you through everything that I've been through and tell you everything that I've been through as a as a biography, it would be too heavy. Yeah. And so as a speaker, I have to wait, what's the blend of content that I want? Meaning? How do I create vulnerability with an audience up front, so that I can build a connection with them. But if I'm too vulnerable for too long, then it's almost depressing. So so I have to use this mixture of what's the right ratio of vulnerability to create a connection with the audience, taking them through the real, the raw, the difficult things that I've been through, but then how do I also make it fun and entertaining, so that people come out feeling better, not worse. And so I use a lot of humor in my talks. And the other thing is, of course, you know, storytelling and different differentiated content, you know, you've got to have unique content that other people aren't really, you know, he can't say the same things. You don't want to say cliches, yeah, it has to be unique content. It's got to be entertaining. It's got to be fun. And it's got to be real, right? It's got to be authentic to who you are.

Tom Bailey  11:53

Yeah, perfect. And, and you weren't now that the first keynote you write, so you will didn't go and test that content as well, to see how it lands with the audience. Absolutely. Perfect. So a lot of speakers that I speak to on the podcast, talk about the transition point from free speaker to paid speaker, can you remember that back? And what was that transition? Like? And how difficult was it for you to ask to be paid to speak at an event?

Chad E Foster  12:18

You know, it really wasn't that that challenging for me, because my background, from a corporate standpoint is pricing. And so that's what I've done for the last 1520 years of my career is pricing. So the first thing I needed to understand was the market for Speaker services. And so I did a lot of research on what that would be. And then once I realized that I had had developed a craft, I developed my craft well enough to where I was, at least, you know, on par with, with some of the other speakers out there, it really wasn't that challenging. It was just for me, the hardest part was getting enough experience to where I felt like, you know, I've got enough speaking under my belt to where I feel like I can deliver a program that meets the client's needs, because you know, every client is different. Your program may be very similar across clients, but they need it customized. And so how can you confidently build content that applies to lots of different audiences, and then customize it to an extent to meet each of their needs, and deliver it in a way that really creates impact because you can have the best content in the world. But if you can't deliver it, in a really engaging and entertaining way, that feels natural, that feels organic, that feels authentic, then you're not going to get any referrals, right. So you need to make sure that you're so comfortable delivering your content across many different situations, that no matter what the ask is, you are going to really blow away your audience. And you know, every time you speak, you should walk away with three to five referrals for your next speaking gig.

Tom Bailey  13:58

Yeah, I love that. And there's a There's a book out there, the referral speaker and which, which covers a lot of that stuff might be worth people checking that out as well. And last last couple of questions from me, I think, like I said, a lot of people listening are are aspiring speakers. So they're, they're stuck in a place where they want to become a speaker. They think they've got a message, but they're just maybe have a little bit of impostor syndrome that's holding them back. What advice would you give to them? If if to give them advice to kind of take that step

Chad E Foster  14:25

to become a speaker? The hardest step is the first step. So, you know, when I talk I talk about one of the topics that I speak on is visualizing greatness. And you know, we all may have this bold vision of greatness for ourselves. But if you're focused on that big, scary goal, whatever that is, in this case, being a speaker, you know, sometimes that can be too intimidating. It can prevent you from taking that first step and that first step is the most important step. And so how can you break down your bold vision of greatness into really bite sized steps so that you can take the first step. So, you know, you want that bold vision of greatness that inspires you to take action, being a, you know, a paid professional keynote speaker. But if you're focused on that the whole time, it can be too much, it can be too hard. So instead of thinking about that, when it's time to take action, right, think about the next best action on your journey. And that really is, okay, let me think about, you know, what are stories in my life experiences that I've had, that when I tell these stories to friends, I can tell they're always engaged in the story? Yeah. And so let me mind my life for the stories that I can tell. Let me figure out what the points of those stories are. Because you know, Every story needs a point, every point needs a story. And then how do I weave those into a signature keynote, and then get really comfortable telling those stories in a way that I think is going to create impact and make the point. And so you start off breaking it down into smaller, bite sized steps? What are those stories? What are the chunks of content that I want to deliver? What are the points I want to make? And then how do I weave that together? In a cohesive narrative? I think that really is the key. Yeah,

Tom Bailey  16:19

I love that. And you make a really good point, when we think of where we want to get, you know, I see these amazing keynote speakers. And I think that's not me, you know, I'm not that good. Who am I to pretend? Who am I to think that I can stand up on stage and do what they can do. But that's that, like you said, actually holds us back to it's breaking it down to that first step and just taking action. And you'll get there

Chad E Foster  16:41

one like that. They weren't born like that. I mean, you know why they're that good is they they've had reps, they've had repetitions. They've done it hundreds or 1000s of times. First time I did it compared to where I'm at today. It's night and day. Yeah, right. First time I get up there in front of a big audience. Of course, I was nervous. Right. Now I get I always get a little nervous before I speak. But now when I go up and speak, I don't I'm not nervous when I'm speaking, right? Everything slows down and you're calm, because you've and it's not because, you know, it's not because it's magic. It's because I've I've had so many experiences doing it that I'm used to it now.

Tom Bailey  17:16

Yeah, confidence comes from competence. So get out there, get those reps in. Perfect. Well, last question for me today is, if anybody wants to book you, as a speaker find out more about you or in fact, buy your book, what is the where's the best place for them to go online?

Chad E Foster  17:30

If they go to my website, which is Chad e I've got videos there. There's books, if you click on the Books link, it'll take you to where they can find my book, which is an Amazon Barnes and Noble Books a Million where, where basically wherever books are sold, and there's an inquiry form there they can they can watch my videos, they can inquire about speaking, I'm with all the major bureaus or most of the major bureaus at this point, too. So if they want to book me through a bureau, I'm available there as well, whether it's Kepler speakers or Premier speakers, or American program Bureau, I'm not sure exactly what you all use, mainly in the UK. But those are some of the ones that are more popular here in the US.

Tom Bailey  18:08

Fantastic, great. Well, I'll do as well as I'll, I'll post links to all of those in the show notes. So people can just click on that and dive right in. Beautiful. So Chad, thank you so much again for your time. So I really appreciate you coming along and sharing your story and such great advice with our audience.

Chad E Foster  18:23

My pleasure. Thanks