Chris Widener has been named one of the top 50 speakers in the world and one of Inc Magazine’s top 100 speakers. He is the author of 20 books that have sold 3 million copies in 13 languages. He’s a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. His book, The Art of Influence, has taken him all over the world speaking to groups as large as 25,000 people, teaching them how to gain trust, respect, admiration, and loyalty.
Today, he’s going to have a chat with us not only to share how he managed to clinch these spots, he’s also here to tell us the obstacles that he had to overcome to get his speaking business off the ground, the mistakes he made along the way, the people who helped him get back on the right track, and the lessons that he learned.
No Cinderella Story
Chris Widener minces no words when describing his childhood, saying “I had a really rotten upbringing.”
He grew up in a single parent household, switched schools 11 times in a span of 28 months, started using drugs during sixth grade, and earned money from selling marijuana and gambling at the horse races. It wasn’t until he felt that his life was going nowhere that he decided that he needed to make changes.
Compared to many public speakers who started their public speaking careers late in their lives, Chris Widener had a relatively early start, and he owes a part of it to his earlier struggles in life.
He started doing the rounds at summer camps, speaking in front of junior high school, high school, and college students before eventually transitioning to speaking in front of adult audiences.
However, like many transitions, things didn’t always go smoothly.
Chris shares one unfortunate but funny incident back when he used to publish an e-zine to help him promote his public speaking business. He built a fax journal and used it to send his newsletters to his subscribers. When he moved to Seattle, he learned about the possible benefits of email and decided to make the switch — but there was a problem.
“Everybody in Seattle had an email address, but nobody anywhere else had an email address, and I lost like 90% of my subscribers overnight by switching to email,” he recalls while laughing out loud.
Many people now know Chris Widener as a bestselling author, but probably few know that he used to ghostwrite for other people, including the popular John Maxwell, himself. In fact, it’s through this gig that he met one of the people who has been instrumental in the growth of his public speaking business — John Rohn.
“People say, ‘how do I build a speaking career,’ and I said, ‘Well, first of all, work with Jim Rohn then work with Zig Ziglar,” he jokes.
Serious Lessons Learned
Jokes aside, Chris Widener credits Jim Rohn and Zig Ziglar as very influential figures in his public speaking career not only because they used to refer clients that they can no longer accommodate to him when he was just starting out, but also because the way they worked and interacted with people taught him to stop measuring himself against others and focus on the things that he can do as an individual and how he can impact other people instead.
Most courses about public speaking focus on a specialization or two — usually marketing — but for Chris, one of the first things that you should learn if you intend to enter the business is positioning yourself.
He tells people not to be intimidated by the big names. Instead find a gap that you can fill, and become an expert at it.
As an example, he shared how he started as a motivational speaker then moved on to becoming a leadership speaker, then a speaker on influence, before finally focusing on character-based influence.
It took Chris years to find his niche, and he knows exactly how time-consuming it can be. Because of this, he developed a much shorter one-year program that can help aspiring public speakers learn the A-Z of public speaking from positioning, branding, and building a social media following, to website building and podcasting.
If you’d like to join in on the action, just head over to the Facebook group Speak for Money and send Chris a private message or you can also send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com ask for info.
Additional information about him and the services that he offers can also be found on his website.