Ben Glenn has made a living as a motivational speaker and performance artist.
Also known as The Chalkguy, Glenn uses chalk on a black 6-by-8-foot canvas to quickly create landscapes while an audience watches.
His artistic ability is a gift. Speaking in front of people is a skill he had to acquire.
“Believe it or not, public speaking is my greatest fear in life, and that’s what I ended up doing,” the Carmel resident said. “In the first year, I didn’t speak at all. My brother, Sam, did.”
Sam would talk while Glenn would dazzle the audience with the flashy chalk work.
“He challenged me, saying a lot of people wanted to know why you are doing this and where the art came from,” Glenn said.
Glenn said not many people did speed painting in the mid-1990s.
“Back then, it was a pretty crazy thing for people to see,” Glenn said. “Sam got tired of answering all the questions. He said, ‘I’ll teach you how to speak and help you with your confidence if you teach me how to do art.’ He honored the deal. Every time when I get on that stage, I still get nervous. You just battle through it.”
Crucial to Glenn’s story is how he overcame his learning disabilities. He was diagnosed as learning disabled and having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia in third grade. He struggled with reading comprehension and spelling.
“I was diagnosed as special. That’s why I wear these Superman shirts all the time,” Glenn said.
Sam, a motivational speaker and artist, lives in Carmel, too. Glenn and his brother are authors as well.
“His work is similar to what I do. I would say his priority is corporate venues,” Glenn said. “He does art, but not the same way. He does a little more painting.”
Glenn, 45, made the decision to leave Anderson University during his junior year and pursue performance art.
“The counselor said, ‘This college isn’t going anywhere. If God is opening a door, give it a shot,’” Glenn said. “That was 25 years ago and I never looked back.”
Many didn’t understand his decision to leave college.
“Everybody thought I crazy. My mom thought I was nuts,” Glenn said.
His wife, Polina Osherov, was not one of them.
“I had every bit of faith that he’d make a career out of the speaking and the art,” she said. “In fact, I could not envision him doing anything else. Everything involved with being an entertainer was a perfect fit with his skills and personality.”
Osherov has watched as Glenn now appears to be a natural.
“I believe that his apparent ease comes from having spoken so many times and over so many years,” she said. “Also, speaking to audiences as a 20-year-old is very different than doing it when you’re 30 or 40 years old. There’s definitely a much greater confidence now that what he has to share has depth and value, just by virtue of age and maturity.”
At first, much of Glenn’s work was with youth groups, church camps and basketball camps. The word spread and jobs kept coming and growing, expanding to corporations and conferences.
Once a struggling student, Glenn now often motivates teachers on the value of their work.
“We have to keep these teachers inspired,” he said. “They’re shaping these kids’ minds. And now more than ever, these kids are struggling with anxiety and doubt.”
For more on Glenn, visit simplybenglenn.com.
A match made in English class
Ben Glenn met his wife, Polina Osherov, when they were students at St. Xavier University in Chicago. Glenn was attending on a basketball scholarship.
“When I did go to college, my English was so bad that I had to take English 99,” Glenn said. “I was the only person in this class from this country.”
Glenn and Osherov, who was born in Russia, met in English 101 in his second semester in college when they exchanged editing papers.
“I had to write one paragraph, and, this is not an exaggeration, she gave me five pages of typed corrections,” Glenn said. “She looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe you are in college. This is the worst piece of writing I’ve ever seen.’ I looked at her and thought, ‘I’m going to stick around her.’”
Glenn gave up his basketball scholarship after two years to transfer to Anderson University. He planned to play basketball there but decided to leave after one semester.
Osherov, a commercial photographer, helps manage her husband’s speaking engagements. She is co-founder and executive director of PATTERN, a nonprofit that focuses on workforce development for the creative class.
Glenn and Osherov have two children, Natasha, 14, and Anastasia, 12.
His family helps him with the Chalkguy Chirstmas Lego Drive, where Lego sets are donated to children’s hospitals, church outreach programs and classrooms. For more, visit giveyourbricks.com.