Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2018

Destined for the spotlight

Sidra Iqbal, public speaker and media personality, in profile.

I recently learned a new word ‘glossophobia’ while reading on the subject of oratory. It means stage fright or speech anxiety. I also read in The Chapman University Survey of American Fears that the majority of people living in the US are more terrified of public speaking than of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, loneliness, volcanoes, theft, ageing, death, needles, mass shootings, kidnapping or ghosts. Although this may sound like an exaggeration, it is not entirely far from the truth as plenty of people (including myself), regardless of how confident they may be in other situations, dread the approach to the podium and shake before a microphone.

Sidra Iqbal is definitely one person I am sure has never known such fears. I say this because she has won recognition for her oratory skills not only in Pakistan, but internationally as well, winning various accolades on the way. In fact, anyone who has seen Iqbal on TV either as a host, moderator or a speaker can attest to the fact that she is a very gifted public speaker, which is also why she is in much demand and always on the move.

So it was great when she agreed to meet me despite her heavy commitments at Koel in Karachi. Back from the gym, her hair tied in a bun, sporting grey jeggings and a mid-length shirt and with that post-workout glow on her face, she enters the room. The first thing she says is that she is really hungry. The order placed and before us (dahi baray and French fries with chilled shikanjabeen), what followed was one of the most interesting conversations I have had with anyone for a long time. Soft-spoken and articulate, when she speaks of her profession, it is in modulated tones – and coherently (like she does on television), but there is a charming frivolousness and vivacity which manifest when she speaks of herself and her family – and that is where the public speaker and business woman takes a back seat and the regular girl takes over.

The eldest of her siblings (she has two sisters) and an only child for her first seven years, Iqbal says she was a born performer who aspired to be an actor. “PTV screened a lot of Lucille Ball shows at the time and I told my mum I wanted to be like her; she of course told me I was crazy!”

Theatre was her passion. She regularly participated in her school’s (Beaconhouse) annual concerts until the birth of her siblings, after which she says, “suddenly I was expected to be the responsible one.”

Hard-pressed to indulge her passion – her father was a director at PTV and her mum, a homemaker who didn’t have the energy or time to take her for rehearsals and do late pickups – Iqbal began to think of other things she could do in terms of performing and soon began to host her school’s annual concerts, going from an announcer to a narrator and then evolving into a debater, all because none of these activities required after-school outings. “Aur is tarha mar gaya mere andar ka actor.” (The actor, however, only went into hibernation; Iqbal did study theatre during her A Levels and even went on to direct a play).


Her career highlights include three national elections (2005, 2008 and 2013), a special series of financial policy debates on the federal budgets from 2007 to 2014, coverage and reporting on the US-Pakistan and India-Pakistan strategic dialogues and conducting interviews with Pervez Musharraf, Salman Taseer, Ambika Soni, Baroness Syeda Warsi, Sherry Rehman, Maryam Nawaz and Lilianne Ploumen (the former Dutch Minister of Trade & Development), among many others.


The year 1999 proved to be a formidable one for this 15-year-old. She was studying at DHA College, which she says had a very strong and competitive debating circuit and was a regular winner of the All Karachi and the All Pakistan Intermediate Debates. That year, an international public speaking championship was taking place in London and Iqbal had to be a part of it! “It had many tiers and the biggest competition was held in Karachi. There were 112 institutes participating. That day changed my life! I was a fresher and I won the competition!”

Later, she went on to win “the first and the only ever prize for Pakistan” at the International Public Speaking Competition in London, beating 48 competitors from 24 countries. It was for this very prestigious competition that she was invited to co-judge with BBC host Lucy Hockings in 2011.

In the following years, along with her studies, Iqbal participated as a youth ambassador and change activist for various youth activism programmes around the world organised by the British Council, the British High Commission, UNESCO and UNICEF. Since public speaking and communication were close to her heart, debating on different forums internationally was like finding her voice. She represented Pakistan in Australia, Cyprus, Europe, Japan, Singapore, UAE and US and very proudly states that while other young people of her age were contemplating which college to go to, she was debating the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) around the world. “These forums and competitions groomed me and taught me to have a perspective about the larger things in life.”

During her undergrad years and MBA days, Iqbal actively hosted conferences and corporate sector programmes and led workshops in communication at the British Council. Her first formal job, however, was at The City School as Head of Marketing, despite the fact that she had two better offers; one as a Political Officer at the British High Commission and the other as Communication Officer at the Senate. Since the former required extensive travelling in Sindh (her mother considered this to be unsafe) and the other involved moving to Islamabad and into the political sphere (of which she had no prior experience), she failed to get the nod from her parents for either opening.

As an educational institute, she found that The City School did not offer much scope in terms of learning about marketing and quit within three months. She then approached Taher A. Khan for a job in advertising. Khan, on the heels of the boom in private TV channels in the early 2000s, was planning on opening one of his own and upon seeing Iqbal’s profile, he offered her a position in the marketing department of TVOne, from where she went to strategy and then to planning a morning show, which she eventually hosted along with Azfar Rehman.

However, Iqbal says this was not the kind of television she wanted to do and although not very happy with the kind of shows she was getting, she continued to work for multiple channels, including PTV, as a freelancer.

During this time, she met Bushra Ansari and Moin Akhtar and vividly remembers what Ansari said to her which (not realising it then) turned out to be prophetic. “She knew I was not enjoying television but she also said, ‘beta kuch bhi karlo, guthney pait ki taraf hi jatay hain’.(The apple does not fall far from the tree; this is the medium where you belong).

And indeed with time, Iqbal began to enjoy television. Her career highlights include three national elections (2005, 2008 and 2013), a special series of financial policy debates on the federal budgets from 2007 to 2014, coverage and reporting on the US-Pakistan and India-Pakistan strategic dialogues and conducting interviews with Pervez Musharraf, Salman Taseer, Ambika Soni, Baroness Syeda Warsi, Sherry Rehman, Maryam Nawaz and Lilianne Ploumen (the former Dutch Minister of Trade & Development), among many others.


Since 2017, Iqbal has joined Raabta (a public diplomacy initiative by Serena Hotels) as a lead consultant. The platform aims to bring different industry and government stakeholders together for a discourse relating to three major themes: economy, culture and future.


Despite meeting so many illustrious personalities, she says her most heart-touching and memorable interviews have been those where she interacted with the families of war veterans for the September 6 shows for ISPR.

Iqbal also served as VP, Public Relations, Ogilvy, in Singapore and Hong Kong for two years (2007-8). In 2010, she launched her own PR company called StatusPro 360, which she managed for about four years but owing to several reasons, she had to eventually close it down.

“When you are a small business enterprise, you are required to do everything yourself; people gave me their business but they also expected me to manage that business and I really only wanted to be involved in strategy. Plus, I was a media personality as well and it became difficult for me to detach myself from the day-to-day routine of the agency.”

At the same time, due to her work-life imbalance, she developed health problems including Singer’s nodes (which results from repetitive overuse of one’s voice), which urgently called for a break and led to a brief hiatus.

Since 2017, Iqbal has joined Raabta (a public diplomacy initiative by Serena Hotels) as a lead consultant. The platform aims to bring different industry and government stakeholders together for a discourse relating to three major themes: economy, culture and future.

She has also started working for Aaj News since June this year, where she covered the recent general elections, 100 days of the current government and since October 8, started her own morning show.

The little time that she gets off from work are spent binge-watching Netflix and relaxing with her niece and nephew. She loves working out daily and reads plenty of wellness content and ‘the law of attraction’.

I conclude my interview with the question of where she sees herself in five years’ time. In reply, she sashays her arms and with a mock filmi attitude goes: “Sidra Iqbal doesn’t think about five years; she thinks about here and now... I’m having French fries and I’m happy and this is what matters.” The performer in her is never asleep, whether on air or otherwise.