Something Just Like This

We don’t have to be Superman or Superwoman to have something important to say.

I recently had the privilege of moderating the 9th WAVE (Women’s Added Value in the Economy) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s an annual event organized and run by the dynamic women of the Career Women’s Forum.

The theme for the conference was “Reinvent yourself. Innovate your career!” It was a privilege to moderate the event. The organizing committee was superb, the panelists were engaging and insightful, and the audience of almost 300 was enthusiastic. You can find the entire program here.

We’re all bad speakers at first

During the dinner / cocktail party that followed, I spoke with several people, one of whom was a young woman who was just embarking on her career. At some point, the conversation turned to public speaking.

She said that she would like to be able to give speeches, but that she wasn’t a good speaker. I reminded her of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” If you look at the top right of this page, you will see that Emerson’s quote is the tagline for this blog.

That’s because I believe that public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn if they are willing to make an effort.

The young woman agreed that she should work at improving her speaking. But then she raised another issue.

You don’t have to be Superman or Superwoman

“I’m not Superwoman. I don’t have anything dramatic to say. I haven’t had any amazing accomplishments that people would be interested in hearing about.”

In response, I told her that she almost certainly did have things of interest to share; she just didn’t see them as such. I also told her that one does not have to have experienced profound, life-altering events in order to be able to make an impact with an audience. A lot of wisdom can come from the most common events.

Indeed, at the very end of the panel discussion at the WAVE Conference, Sofia de Meyer, one of my panelists, told a simple story that made a big impact. Sofia is the inspiring co-founder of Opaline, a producer of fine Swiss juices that has been recognized for its ethical and environmentally friendly approach to business.

A lesson in a parking lot

Sofia talked about a time when she was running late to catch a train. She could not find an empty parking space at the station and so backed her car into a tight corner, prepared to take the risk of a ticket. But she just had to be on that train. A woman who was passing by commented on her skill at parking. Sofia responded with a smile and explained her situation. The other woman, who had private parking, then said that she would move her car so that Sofia could take her spot and not worry about a fine.

The message of the story had to do with going through life being open to, supportive of and grateful for other people. And the audience absolutely loved it. It’s the perfect example of how something so simple can make such a difference to others.

Yesterday, this idea was reinforced in my mind. I was at the gym when Something Just Like This, the song by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay came on the radio. I like the tune and as I listened to the lyrics, this idea of not having to be Superman or Superwoman in order to make an impact came back to me.

I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spiderman’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

She said, where’d you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I’m not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gifts
Some superhero
Some fairytale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can miss

I want something just like this
I want something just like this

If you are Superman or Superwoman, that’s great. But it’s not necessary. What we want is someone whom we can turn to, someone who will be there for us, someone who will share a little something of himself or herself. If you’re prepared to do that, if you’re prepared to take that risk and be that person, we are more than willing to listen.

We are thought machines

As Steve Martin, one of my comedy heroes, says in the introduction to his Masterclass on stand-up comedy (and his words are 100% relevant for public speakers):

Remember, you are a thought machine. Everything you see, hear, experience is usable. Whatever makes you unique as a performer, do it. And know that there’s room for you.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
Picture of johnzimmer


  1. Great advice, and the everyday example about parking is spot on.

    Another great source of material is failures you’ve had. After all, everyone’s failed at some point, so every speaker can share a failure they’ve had, and audiences can strongly relate. (Naturally, having failures is just about the opposite of the Superman ideal, too!)

    I like Craig Valentine’s advice to keep a “failure file”, where you write down your “failures, flaws and frustrations” to use in future talks. (There’s a link to his post about that, plus related advice from other speaker-coaches, here.)

    1. Thanks, Craig. Yes, failures are great sources of material for speeches and presentations. I tell my corporate clients not to be afraid to talk about a time when they failed at something. Audiences will be able to relate. Of course, the best case is when you learned something valuable from your failure and can share that insight with the audience. I tell people that your audience will always be willing to listen to one of your big F’s in life: firsts; fears; frustrations; failures; and fiascoes (or fuck-ups, if you prefer saltier language and it works with the audience!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

seven − 1 =


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