Public Speaking: Taking That First Step

This summer, my family and I returned to Canada for a vacation. While we were in Toronto, I followed the debate that was raging (and which continues to rage as of the date of this post) about closing public libraries to reduce municipal government costs.

Public hearings were held to discuss the issue. The response to the invitation to participate in the debate was so great that hearings went into the early hours of the morning. One person who accepted the invitation to address the Toronto City Council was a 14-year old girl from Scarborough (eastern Toronto) named Anika Tabovaradan.

At 2:00 a.m., Anika’s turn to speak finally came.

Anika is to be commended for her presentation. By her own admission, she “hates public speaking” and was very nervous. There is certainly a lot that could be said about the ways in which she could improve her public speaking skills. But that would miss the point.

Anika is to be commended because she had the courage to speak in front of others—in a very public forum, no less—on a subject about which she cares deeply: preserving Toronto’s public libraries. Notwithstanding her nerves, Anika chose to speak rather than remain silent. I’m glad she did; her words clearly resonated with the audience.

We can all learn a lesson from Anika’s speech. Nerves are a normal part of public speaking. But if our nerves prevent us from sharing our ideas with the world, we are doing ourselves and others a great disservice. In the coming days, I will put up another post with some tips on handling public speaking nerves.

As for Anika, I hope that this experience bolsters her confidence and that she soon finds herself in front of other audiences. I suspect that she has many good ideas to share. With practice, persistence and patience, she could become an accomplished speaker.

For more on Anika’s story, here is an article from the Toronto Star. Thanks to my friend and fellow public speaker, Chris Colaço, for sending it to me.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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11 Responses to Public Speaking: Taking That First Step

  1. chris says:

    Hi John, too true, punctuality is important and also implies so much about ones reliability and trustworthy nature.

    I am a house painter and after working for the owner of an ornate mansion full of priceless antiques for a week she gives me the keys and codes and goes to Europe every winter, leaving the house to me. Always being on time shows respect for others and support for the event and organisation. It is the best way to earn credibility and I often give this advice to the young workers.

    All the best for the event John. I am just about to write a eulogy which must be one of the hardest tasks ever for a Toastmaster.

    Cheers, Chris

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Chris,

      Great story. It is a testimony to your trustworthiness that she gives your the keys to the house.

      I hope that eulogy went well.

      Best regards,


  2. Laura says:

    Hi John,

    I just watched this post and I see a lot of me in Anika, that’s why I am where I am now (TM!). Her speech really moved me and I really admire her because, altough she was terrified, she had the courage to speak up her mind. I think we all have to learn from this, so I thank you for sharing this video.

    See you soon, Laura

    • John Zimmer says:

      Ciao Laura e grazie per il messagio.

      Indeed, Anika was very brave to speak in front of all those people. There is a lot that we can all learn from her. Being brave does not mean that we are not afraid; being brave means being afraid and moving forward anyway.

      See you in Milano!


  3. Great Post and video, John!

    The audience’s reaction shows the impact this young lady’s talk had on them, doesn’t it!

    A few lessons here:
    1. Face the fear and do it anyway.
    2. Speak from the heart and make an emotional connection with your audience.
    3. The worst speech you’ll ever give, will be far better than the one you never give.

    Thanks for the Post!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Great comment, Fred! Thanks very much. I had heard points 1 and 2 several many times before, but I love the wisdom in your third point. It reminds me of a great quote by Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”



  4. Pingback: Quick Steps to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

  5. Katja says:

    Important post, John! I am a Finn myself and in my native culture fear of public speaking is very common and it is such a shame. Many, many intresting thoughts will never be shared at the workplace, in public hearings such as in your story etc. etc. and it is a big loss.

    Unfortunately many people mistakenly think aversion to public speaking is a static part of a personality rather than a lack of certain skills. Sure, there are people who are naturally more talented in public speaking and don’t mind performing at all but basic skills in this can be learned by anyone. And then it is just down to feeling the fear and – just doing it! Like Anika did.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Katja,

      Thanks for the great comment! As we say in English, you hit the nail on the head with your insight. Public speaking is something that anyone can get better at, provided that they are prepared to work at it and provided that they are able to work through the fear. That is precisely why I use the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as the tagline to my blog: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

      Thanks again.


  6. Jack Vincent says:

    I love it! Great post, John. And great job, Anika!!!

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