29 Speakers With Epic Firsts

Speakers with Epic Firsts Blog Cover

What does it take to step out on a ledge alone and jump into the unknown? How do you push yourself into uncharted waters without looking back and clinging to land? Why don't we encourage ourselves and others to take more risks to uncover the potential within?

If you're looking for a keynote speaker who can inspire wonder within your audience through their storytelling while motivating them to reach the highest levels of their abilities, look no further than one of these 29 keynote speakers known for their "firsts."

From the first blind man to summit Mt. Everest, to the first female sports agent and the first African American to be named to a Wall Street bank's management committee, these speakers embody passion, grit, and determination.


Here are several outstanding keynote speakers we represent who have checked off some pretty fascinating firsts. To get a glimpse into what each of these revolutionary individuals were the first person to achieve and conquer, click on the speaker names featured in the numbered list below 

  • Erik Weihenmayer, 1st Blind Person To Summit Mt. Everest
  • General Ann Dunwoody, 1st Female Four-Star General In The US Military
  • General Michael Hayden, 1st Person To Serve As Both Director Of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) & National Security Agency (NSA)
  • Donna Brazile, 1st African American Woman To Manage A Presidential Campaign
  • Dr. Geoff Tabin, 1st Person To Ever Bungee Jump
  • Susan O’Malley,1st Female President Of A Professional Sports Franchise
  • Vernice Armour, 1st African American Female Combat Pilot
  • Ben Saunders, 1st Person To Complete An Epic, 105-Day, 1,800-Mile Trek On Foot To The South Pole & The Youngest Person To Ski The North Pole Solo
  • Charlie Linville, 1st Combat-Wounded Veteran To Summit Mt. Everest
  • Nicole Malachowski, 1st Female Thunderbird Pilot
  • Alpana Singh, 1st Indian Woman To Become A Master Sommelier
  • Carla Harris, 1st African American To Join Morgan Stanley’s Management Committee
  • Joby Ogwyn, 1st Person To Fly Next To Mt. Everest & All 4 Faces Of Matterhorn In A Winged Suit
  • Carey Lohrenz, 1st Female To Pilot A F-14 Tomcat Fighter Jet
  • Lisa Jaster, 1st Female Army Reserve Officer To Become An Army Ranger
  • Jessica Cox, World's 1st Armless Pilot
  • General John Allen1st Marine Selected To Command A Theater Of War & 1st American Tapped To Confront ISIL
  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 1st Man To Reach Both Poles By Surface Travel & 1st To Cross the Antarctic Continent Unsupported
  • Bakari Sellers, Youngest Member of the South Carolina State Legislature & Youngest African American Elected Official In The US
  • Dusty Baker, 1st & Only Three-Time Major League Baseball Manager of the Year in Major League History
  • Molly Fletcher, One Of The 1st Female Sports Agents In History
  • Philip Mudd1st Deputy Director of the National Security Branch (NSB) & Former Deputy Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center
  • Laila Ali, 1st Female To Provide Commentary For NBC Sports When Women's Boxing Was Included In The Olympics For The 1st Time In History
  • Mick Ebeling, Created The 1st 3D Printing Prosthetic Lab & Training Facility Ever
  • Shellye Archambeau, 1st African American Female Sent On An International Assignment By IBM
  • Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, & 1st African American Elected To Statewide Office

Keep reading to learn more about each of these record breakers and history makers and click on the links below to navigate to and browse through each of their individual speaker profile pages and find out more about their speaking topics. 


1st Blind Person To Summit Mt. Everest

Erik Weihenmayer is one of the most sought-after keynote  speakers in the world. Despite losing his vision at age 14, he is an accomplished climber, paraglider, skier, and kayaker who never allows blindness interfere with his passion for pursuing an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Erik brings audiences a powerful message about harnessing the power of adversity as fuel for greatness, emphasizing the importance of building a strong “Rope Team,” and illuminating how to develop a “No Barriers Mindset.” In 2001, Erik became the first blind person in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In 2008, he completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountain on each continent. Erik competed in Primal Quest, among the toughest adventure races in the world: 457 miles, nine days, 60,000 feet of elevation gain, and no time-outs. In 2010, Erik also completed the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, with elevations all above 10,000 feet, on a tandem bike, once again becoming the first blind person to complete a world-class competition.  |  Learn more about Erik here.


1st Female Four-Star General In The US Military

General Ann Dunwoody is the former commanding general of one of the Army’s largest commands, the US Army Materiel Command. She is the first woman in US military history to achieve a four-star officer rank. Dunwoody shares what nearly four decades in the military taught her about effective leadership, revealing the core principles that guided her to her historic appointment. She believes that good leadership is in finding your passion and helps her audience understand how to tap into that desire and ability to inspire. Leadership is about communicating a vision and earning buy-in from your subordinates—not directives and authority, and Dunwoody shares the unique perspective of the military’s most successful woman ever. Through engaging stories and battle-tested insights, she offers audiences practical, tactical advice to lead and achieve with maximum success—no matter the size or scope of their organization.  |  Learn more about General Dunwoody here.


1st Person To Serve As Director Of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) & National Security Agency (NSA)

As head of the country’s premier intelligence agencies, Hayden was on the front lines of global change, the war on terrorism, and the growing cyber challenge. He understands the dangers, risks, and potential rewards of the political, economic, and security situations facing us. General Hayden dissects hot spots around the world, analyzing the tumultuous global environment, the impact of the recent US election and what it all means for Americans and America’s interests. He speaks on the delicate balance between liberty and security in intelligence work, as well the potential benefits and dangers associated with the cyber domain.  |  Learn more about General Hayden here.


1st African American Woman To Manage A Presidential Campaign

Donna Brazile weaves together a captivating political narrative drawing on anecdotal stories from her decades work in Washington. Recalling moments working on every presidential campaign since 1984, heading the Gore-Lieberman campaign, serving as chief of staff and press secretary to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), serving as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, and working as top Democratic political strategist, Brazile offers a comprehensive picture of the political environment, and gives an original perspective on the trends shaping and driving the mood of the country.  |  Learn more about Donna here.


1st Person To Ever Bungee Jump

Dr. Geoff Tabin is a medical visionary, humanitarian, accomplished mountain climber, professor of ophthalmology and global medicine, and the co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), a non-profit organization working to eradicate preventable blindness in the developing world. While obtaining his graduate degree at Oxford University, he was part of a society where he became the first person to ever jump using Bungee Cords. In entertaining speeches, Dr. Tabin discusses innovative problem-solving, overcoming formidable challenges, and the development and implementation of revolutionary ideas.  |  Learn more about Dr. Tabin here.


1st Female President Of A Professional Sports Franchise

As the first female president of a professional sports franchise, Susan O’Malley is a pioneer in two fields: Sports and business. She knows what it takes to be a leader in a tough business environment and how to create an organization from the ground up. Once an intern with the Washington Capitals and the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards), O’Malley joined Washington Sports and Entertainment in 1986. Since that time, her ground-breaking business ideas and proactive approach to customer service brought her to the top of the sports business world.  |  Learn more about Susan here.


1st African American Female Combat Pilot

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour propelled herself from beat cop to combat pilot in a record-breaking three years and became America’s first African American female combat pilot. Be inspired by Vernice’s personal story of setbacks, challenges, adventure, success, and triumph. Vernice takes you on an amazing journey through her life experiences and, most importantly, the lessons learned.  |  Learn more about Vernice here.


1st Person To Complete An Epic, 105-Day, 1,800-Mile Trek On Foot To The South Pole & The Youngest Person To Ski The North Pole Solo

Ben Saunders is a world-record breaking polar explorer and three-time TED Talk speaker who is best known for leading one of the most ambitious polar expeditions in a century, he was the first to successfully complete an epic, 105-day, 1,800-mile trek on foot to the South Pole—equivalent to running 69 marathons back-to-back. Ben also has five North Pole expeditions under his belt and has accomplished some of the world’s most impressive polar expeditions. He is the youngest person to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. He also holds the record for the longest human-powered polar journey in history and is the third in history and the youngest by 10 years to reach the North Pole alone and on foot. Believing that “No one else is an authority on your potential” and “Impossible is just someone’s opinion,” Saunders combines the allure and nostalgia of 20th century explorers with the ingenuity of today’s modern adventurers.  If you haven’t yet heard Ben talk about “giving everything you have to achieve something that’s never been done before,” watch his original, powerful TED Talk here. His presentation takes you to the ends of the Earth and back and showcases spectacular visuals, a commanding stage presence, a winning smile, and funny and relatable stories.  |  Learn more about Ben here.


1st Combat-Wounded Veteran To Summit Mt. Everest

Sgt. Charles Linville became the first combat-wounded veteran to summit Mount Everest after a three-year journey of intensive training and unwavering determination. Linville was injured in 2011 while serving as a bomb technician during his second tour in Afghanistan. Refusing to be told the limitations of his own body, Linville represents the ultimate success story in achieving goals deemed beyond reach. His speech leaves audiences with an overwhelming sense of what obstacles can be overcome, by taking that first step.  |  Learn more about Charlie here.


1st Female Thunderbird Pilot

A 21-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Colonel Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) wanted to fly military jets from the moment she saw them at her first air show when she was five years old. She achieved that goal—and then some. Nicole brings her experience to the stage and holds audiences spellbound with an easygoing authenticity of someone who’s achieved greatness.  |  Learn more about Nicole here.


1st Indian Woman To Become A Master Sommelier

Alpana Singh's road to the top of her field was a whirlwind. Born to Indian parents who moved to California from the Fiji Islands, she discovered the art of wine while working as a hostess and found that it combined her varied interests of geography, history, and food. She achieved her goal of becoming a Master Sommelier at the tender age of 26. One of only 274 Master Sommeliers worldwide, and one of just 24 women to be given the distinction, Alpana became the youngest female to pass the final level of the Master Sommelier exam as well as the first Indian woman to earn the prestigious title. Being a unique member of her industry’s elite group of specialists, she also uses anecdotes and personal stories about becoming the first Indian woman to vault to the status of Master Sommelier. Alpana conducts classes, provides post-event mixers and instructional wine bars for attendees, and creates exceptional experiences that are the ideal pairing of the informative and the entertaining. And everyone walks away with a greater knowledge about not only wine, but about the surprising depth of their personal taste. |  Learn more about Alpana here.


1st African American To Join Morgan Stanley’s Management Committee

Carla Harris is vice chairman, global wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley and a leading keynote speaker on motivation, success, and exceeding expectations. In her current role at Morgan Stanley, she is responsible for increasing client connectivity and penetration to enhance revenue generation across the firm. Carla has extensive industry experiences in the technology, media, retail, telecommunications, transportation, industrial, and healthcare sectors.  |  Learn more about Carla here.


1st Person To Fly Next To Mt. Everest & All 4 Faces Of Matterhorn In A Winged Suit

Joby Ogwyn has a few “firsts.” With more than 30 global expeditions completed, Joby also holds the world speed record for his ascent of Ama Dablam in Nepal. By age 26, he became the youngest person in the world to climb the “Seven Summits.” With a passion for human flight, he was also the first person to fly next to Mt. Everest and around all four faces of the Matterhorn in a wing-suit. Finally, he holds the world record for three BASE jumps from the Eiger north face in one day as well.  |  Learn more about Joby here.


1st Female To Pilot A F-14 Tomcat Fighter Jet

Carey Lohrenz knows what it takes to win in one of the highest pressure, extreme environments imaginable: In the cockpit at Mach 2. As the first female F-14 Tomcat Fighter Pilot in the US Navy, having flown missions worldwide as a combat-mission-ready United States Navy pilot, Lohrenz is used to working in fast moving, dynamic environments, where inconsistent execution can generate catastrophic results.  |   Learn more about Carey here.. 


1st Female Army Reserve Officer To Become An Army Ranger

One of only three women to graduate from the first integrated United States Army Ranger program—one of the most difficult combat training courses in the world—Lisa’s energetic presentations hit on the importance of perseverance and camaraderie, affirming her belief that “There is no quitting.”  |  Learn more about Lisa here


World's First Armless Pilot, Inspirational Speaker, & Disability Rights Advocate

Jessica Cox has famously eliminated the words “I can’t” from her vocabulary. Despite being born without arms due to a birth defect, she has never allowed that to be a limiting factor. Throughout childhood, she participated in many activities, including swimming, gymnastics, and tap dancing. Jessica started Tae Kwon-Do when she was ten, earning her first black belt at fourteen in the International Tae Kwon-Do Federation. She rejoined American Tae Kwon-Do Association in college and earned a second black belt.  |   Learn more about Jessica here.


1st US Marine Selected To Command A Theater of War & First American Tapped To Confront ISISL

General John Allen is one of the nation’s most legendary military leaders and most respected thought leaders on US-global engagement and leadership of large, complex organizations. When President Barack Obama created the appointment of special envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, General Allen was the first American tapped to confront the Islamic State terror group known as ISIL. General Allen’s diplomatic efforts grew the coalition to 65 members and effectively halted the expansion of ISIL. President Obama said of Allen, “American leadership of this coalition is making the world a safer place, and we have been fortunate to have a great patriot like John Allen leading our efforts.” Allen spent his early career in Washington, DC, and became the first Marine Corps officer to be inducted as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He had field command during missions in the Caribbean and the Balkans and became the first Marine to serve as the commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He was also the first Marine ever selected to command a theater of war.  |  Learn more about General Allen here


1st Man To Reach Both Poles By Surface Travel & 1st To Cross the Antarctic Continent Unsupported

Sir Ranulph Fiennes was the first man to reach both poles by surface travel along with Charles Burton, and the first to cross the Antarctic Continent unsupported along with Mike Stroud. In the 1960's, he was removed from the SAS Regiment for misuse of explosives but, joining the army of the Sultan of Oman, received that country's Bravery Medal on active service in 1971. He is the only person yet to have been awarded two clasps to the Polar medal for both Antarctic and the Arctic regions. Fiennes has led over 30 expeditions including the first polar circumnavigation of the Earth, and in 2003 he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in aid of the British Heart Foundation, only 3½ months after a massive heart attack. |  Learn more about Sir Fiennes here


Youngest Member of the South Carolina State Legislature & Youngest African American Elected Official In The US

Bakari Sellers made history in 2006 when, at just 22 years old, he defeated a 26-year incumbent US State Representative to become the youngest member of the South Carolina state legislature and the youngest African American elected official in the nation. In 2014, he was the Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor in the state of South Carolina. His impressive list accomplishment in addition to having served on President Barack Obama’s South Carolina steering committee during the 2008 election, Sellers is widely considered to be a rising star within the Democratic Party and leading voice for his generation. That coupled with his uncommon ability to reach across the aisle and get things done has led to numerous accolades including being named to TIME Magazine’s "40 Under 40" in 2010 as well as 2014 and 2015 “The Root 100” list of the nation’s most influential African Americans in 2014 and 2015. | Learn more about Bakari Sellers here.


The Only Three-Time Major League Baseball Manager of the Year in Major League History

Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker Jr. is an American former Major League Baseball manager and retired all-star Major League baseball player. He had a 19-year career as a hard-hitting outfielder, primarily with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. He helped the Dodgers to pennants in 1977 and 1978 and to the World Series championship in 1981. Dusty Baker’s record-setting career as a Major League Baseball manager is legendary—Dusty was the first National League manager to earn "Manager of the Year" honors three times. The Legendary Baseball Player and Manager now shares his love and skill with the sport for all. Dusty is an accomplished and versatile inspirational keynote speaker who now shares his love and skill with the sport for all. He easily connects with his audience by sharing candid stories of his life experiences. Dusty's gift for relating his fascinating life experiences—both on and off the field—have been enjoyed by audiences all over the country.  |  Learn more about Dusty Baker here.


One Of The 1st Female Sports Agents In History

Molly Fletcher is a trailblazer in every sense of the word—a rare talent of business wisdom, relationship brilliance, and unwavering optimism. As a CEO, she shares her unconventional and unique techniques that made her one of the first female sports agents in the high stakes, big ego world of professional sports, and now a successful entrepreneur. Formerly, as president of client representation for sports and entertainment agency CSE, Molly spent two decades as one of the world’s only female sports agents. She was hailed as the “female Jerry Maguire” by CNN as she recruited and represented hundreds of sport’s biggest names, including Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA TOUR golfer Matt Kuchar, broadcaster Erin Andrews, and basketball championship coaches Tom Izzo and Doc Rivers. She talks about how to unleash potential by using transformational change for good, shares lessons on achieving peak performance, offers tactical advice for setting goals and chasing them, and uses stories to bring lessons on living fearlessly to life.  |  Learn more about Molly here.


1st Deputy Director of the National Security Branch (NSB)

Philip Mudd spent 25 years in the federal government working on national security issues, especially counterterrorism at the CIA, FBI, and White House. He served as the first Deputy Director of the National Security Branch (NSB) and the Deputy Director of the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA and worked as the senior intelligence advisor at the FBI. He left government in 2010 and now speaks, writes, consults, and teaches. His most recent book, The HEAD Game, a guide to critical thinking and problem solving, was published in 2015. HE appears frequently on CNN as the network's counterterrorism analyst, and he speaks to universities, law enforcement officials, and companies about issues such as decision-making and national security.  |   Learn more about Philip here.


1st Woman To Provide Commentary For NBC Sports When Women's Boxing Was Included In The Olympics For The First Time In History

Laila Ali is a world-class athlete, fitness and nutrition expert, TV host, cooking enthusiast, founder and CEO of the Laila Ali Lifestyle Brand, advocate for women and children, wife, and mother of two. The daughter of late beloved global icon and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali, she is a four-time undefeated boxing world champion. She shares incredible stories and lessons about being a champion in all that you do, unlocking your competitive edge and using it as an advantage, finding strength and personal power, and tapping into inspiration during challenging times and against all odds. She is a past President of the Women's Sports Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes equality for women in the world of professional sports and pushes programs that encourage young women to be confident, healthy, and strong through sports. In 2012, when women's boxing was included in the Olympics for the first time in history, Laila was the first woman in history to provide expert commentary for NBC Sports. For two consecutive years since it’s conception in 2015, she was selected as host of the first-ever televised ESPN Sports Humanitarian Awards.  |   Learn more about Laila here.


CEO of Not Impossible Labs Who Created The World’s 1st 3D Printing Prosthetic Lab & Training Facility

A two-time winner of the South by Southwest Innovation Award, one of Wired magazine’s “Agents of Change,” and a recipient of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award, Ebeling is dedicated to using technology “for the sake of humanity.” Project Daniel, the subject of Intel’s “Look Inside” campaign, enabled Ebeling to fly to Sudan to 3D print prosthetic limbs and fit them for children of the war-torn region. He then left the equipment behind with trained locals to continue his work, creating the world’s first 3D printing prosthetic lab and training facility. Arms are printed within hours and cost $100. TIME magazine said, “It’s hard to imagine any other device doing more to make the world a better place.” His most recent project, Don's Voice, allowed an ALS patient to speak to his wife for the first time in 15 years. He talks about working together to better our world and rethinking problems. Project Daniel and Don’s Voice were consecutive recipients of the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award in 2015 and 2016, in addition to receiving many other accolades. |  Learn more about Mick here.


1st African American Woman Sent On An International Assignment By IBM

Shellye Archambeau is the former CEO of Silicon Valley-based MetricStream, where over the course of 14 years she grew the company from a newly formed company to a 1,500-person, global team. She spent 15 years in executive roles at IBM, becoming the first African American woman sent on international assignment by the company. Shellye is a powerful speaker with talks on both innovation and leadership. When discussing leadership, she shares anecdotes from her personal journey from humble beginnings to the top of Silicon Valley, and shares her four-step plan for success. Inspirational, authentic, and whip-smart, Shellye encourages audiences to set audacious goals and, most importantly, execute on them. She was named the “#2 Most Influential African American in Technology” by Business Insider and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Business Leaders in America” by Newsmax.  |   Learn more about Shellye here


Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, & 1st African American Elected To Statewide Office

When he was elected Lt. Governor of Maryland in 2003, Michael Steele made history as the first African American elected to statewide office; and again with his subsequent chairmanship of the Republican National Committee in 2009. As chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele was charged with revitalizing the Republican Party. A self-described "Lincoln Republican," under Steele’s leadership the RNC broke fundraising records (over $198 million raised during the 2010 Congressional cycle) and Republicans won 63 House seats, the biggest pickup since 1938. His commitment to grassroots organization and party building at the state and local levels produced 12 governorships and the greatest share of state legislative seats since 1928 (over 760 seats).  |  Learn more about Michael here.


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