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. Toronto City Hall

Anika Tabovaradan speaking at Toronto City Hall

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 decided to address the Toronto City Council was a 14-year old girl named Anika Tabovaradan.

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

Well done, Anika. By her own admission, she “hates public speaking” and was very nervous. We could discuss the ways in which she could improve her public speaking skills. But that would miss the point.

Anika had the courage to speak in front of others—in a very public forum—on a subject about which she cares deeply. 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 at Toronto City Hall, here is an article from the Toronto Star.

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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.”

  3. 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

    1. 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!

  4. 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

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International