Rebel Uprising Podcast

What does it take to be a speaker?

be a speaker

Recently, I recorded an episode of the podcast, Power. Profit. Pursuit. hosted by Tara Gentile. (I’ll totally let you know when it’s out because it was an amazing conversation about how to use speaking to grow your business).

At the end of the interview, she asked me what my advice is to speakers who been dabbling in speaking or are just starting out.

My answered surprised me. It gave me chills. It was one of those moments when I had no clue where the answer came from.

My answer was:

Decide to be a speaker.

Whaaaat? What did I mean by that?

Lots of people have the word speaker in their bio, on their business card, and on their website. However, if you dig deeper, you find that they’re not speaking all that much. They are dabbling. Hoping, praying, wishing that they’ll be “discovered” or get a break

When you take on the IDENTITY of a speaker, you start to make decisions like a speaker. You start to do what a speaker does. You say to yourself “I am a speaker.”

You take on the what Kelly Diel’s says is a “no matter what” attitude.

Say this out loud: I am a speaker. No. Matter. What.

If you’re on board with “I am a speaker, no matter what” mentality. You’re probably wondering what you need to do and what decisions you must make and to assume the identity of a speaker.

That’s what we are going to tackle next, but a word of compassion first. This list is not a checklist. Don’t read it and think “I haven’t done all of those things so I am not a speaker. Noooooo!!!”

The fact is that you’re reading this list, you’re willing to take small actions (no matter what) on these items means that you are a speaker.

Let’s begin!

Speakers have a signature talk

The other day on Twitter, I tweeted “a speaker without a signature speech is not a speaker, they are a dreamer.”  Some on Twitter took umbriage with my tweet.

You can’t be a cyclist if you don’t own a bike. You can’t be a swimmer if you don’t know how to swim. You can’t be a speaker if you don’t have a speech.

The person who says “I am a speaker” has a speech that matches that identity. They are ready to speak at a moment’s notice. They know they have a talk that matters to the audience. They know what stories makes their audience laugh or give the audience “the feels.” They’ve got a talk that is time tested.

The best part of being a speaker with a signature talk: it’s like slipping on a pair of comfy yoga pants every time you give it.

Recently, I spoke in Portland. Before my gig, I had several other speaking opporunities (a webinar, two podcast interviews). Each of those events required my time and prep meaning that I only had two days to dust off and practice my signature talk for the PDX gig.

Practicing that speech was like catching up with an old friend. It was easy to fall back into the rhythm. I got excited about my Time Warp opening, and I eagerly anticipated telling my story about my first rant.

There’s ease with my signature talk. There’s confidence with that speech because I know audiences love it.

It brings me joy to give it.

It’s a pure expression of me as a speaker.

That speech is WHO. I. AM.

As a speaker, that’s the way you should feel about your signature talk.

Confidence. Ease. Anticipation. Love. Joy.

(P.S. I want to make it clear that I didn’t always feel that way about my signature talk. It took time, reiteration, coaching – yes even the speech coach gets coaching – and a substantial investment of energy and money to fall in love. When it happens for you, it will be the best thing to happen to your speaking career I promise).

Make the Hard Decision to Embrace the Life of a Speaker

For some of you reading this, this is going to be a freaking easy decision. You’re going to be all-in to embrace the life of the speaker.

For other’s of us it’s about knowing where our edges are. Here are some questions to consider about the life of a speaker:

  • How much do you want to speak each year?
  • How much travel are you willing to do?
  • What’s your speaking fee (because even if you are just starting out you need to be prepared to answer this question)?
  • Will you speak for free or fee waived?
  • Which types of gigs are perfect for you?
  • Which type of gigs are a hell no for you?
  • What’s your ultimate dream speaking gig?
  • What do you want to be known for as a speaker?

And this is just a partial list.

In my 30s, I spoke frequently. There were some months I was on the road every single week. I had the Seattle to Chicago flight schedule memorized. The flight attendants knew me on sight.

I spoke a lot. I didn’t say no. I was always on the road.


I missed my man. I missed my cats. I missed hanging out with friends. I missed my large collection of Duran Duran records.

As my 40s approached, I made some hard choices about who I wanted to be as a speaker.

My husband and cats came first (BTW, he’s chuffed that he came first in this sentence). Mentoring and coaching my clients to be speakers came second. My own speaking is third.

This means that I decided to only speak six to eight times a year. To say “no” to gigs that weren’t quite right for me. To set a fee that values my time, my experience, the years of education, expertise, and experience to be the speaker that I am today. To travel less and be home more.

I also battled my imposter complex telling me that I am not a speaker because I’m not willing to sacrifice everything for it (even though I’d been there and done that and got the frequent flier status to prove it).

I am a speaker. I’ve made the decision to think about what I want my speaking life to be like. I’m happy with my decision.

You should make those decisions to for yourself. No person or organization should dictate to you how much money you should make, how many times you should speak per year or any of your speaking goals.  

Embracing the life of a speaker means knowing where your boundaries are and how far you’re willing to go.

What’s on your speaking “ride or die” list?

It may be just me, but this post has been deep. I want to close with something fun (I just realized that I had die in the header for this section and now I mention fun…bear with me here).

I was first introduced to the concept of a “ride or die” list in Shonda Rhime’s book “Year of Yes.”  Your ride or die list is simply all the people in your life who will be there for you no matter what.

I look at a “ride or die” list for speaking the same way. It’s what you need to be the speaker you know you are. It’s the list that sets you up for success. It gives you confidence. It makes speaking easier and fun.

What’s on your ride or die list? (I’d love to hear about it in the comments).

Here’s what’s on my list:

  • Signature talk
  • Pre-talk text from hubby wishing me luck (I don’t even have to ask for this…I’m a lucky woman)
  • Remote mouse
  • Apple VGA adapter
  • Keynote template
  • A fresh manicure
  • Passport
  • TSA pre-check (still working on this)
  • Fully charged iPhone
  • Fully charged MacBook
  • Cat sitter (my hubby is a lucky guy)
  • Ear plugs and eye mask
  • Fluevogs (no, I didn’t sneeze I’m talking shoes here)
  • Post-speech debrief with my accountability partner, Tracey

That’s what I need to feel successful and confident before, during, and after the gig. It’s my ride or die speaking list.

Your identity of speaker is ever evolving.

It all starts with a simple declaration of “I am a speaker. NO. MATTER. WHAT.”

Once you’ve made that commitment, you’re ready for the journey.

A journey toward a signature talk that you absolutely love.

A journey to making the hard decisions to shape what you want your life to look like as a speaker.

A journey to understanding the conditions that you need in place to make you successful in this identity.

There are going to be bumps along the road. You’re going to have moments where you’re bored of your speech and if you have to eat at one more Sbarro in an airport you’ll puke.

And there will also be the highest of highs. Walking off stage and hearing how your words mattered and made a difference to your audience. Getting paid for the first (or 21st time) for speaking.

Enjoy it all.

Just remember, I am a speaker, no matter what.

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