Toastmasters speech no.1: Icebreaker

For the past few weeks I’ve been busy working on my first speech for my public speaking club: London Cardinals which is part of Toastmasters International.

Now that I have written and performed my speech I would like to reflect on some of the things that I have learned from the experience.

But before I do that here is a recording of the speech. I cringe when I watch it, but I’m glad it’s been recorded for posterity. (Bofore watching understand that this speech is intended to introduce yourself to the other club members and most Toastmasters speeches begin with the greeting “Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests”).


Choosing the topic

The purpose of your first speech in toastmasters is to introduce yourself to the club. The best icebreakers I’ve seen have contained personal stories. The worst icebreakers I’ve seen have listed timeline of events starting at their birth. I chose to talk about my experiences living in a student house in the second year of university. This period of my life is rich with amusing stories and the topic provides scope to introduce plenty of personal background.

Writing

I wrote an initial draft in DarkRoom. I love this program as it allows you to write without being constantly distracted by incorrect spelling notifications, word count, or opening “print-preview” to see how much you’ve written.

After a couple of disjoint drafts I realised that I wanted a “point” to the speech rather than a collection of loosely related anecdotes. This basically involved retrofitting a “moral” over the top of the stories I already had. I eventually decided on “…therefore you should try and make friends with your neighbours” (thanks to Martin Smith for that suggestion). Streamlining became much easier after this: if the story was unrelated it was cut.

I found that writing for a speech is very different to normal writing. Things that looked fine on the page would sound really confused and too verbose when read out loud. The stuff that sounded the best was invariably short, simple sentences.

I found it was important to experiment out loud before commiting to the page. Initially I was just reading back paragraphs after I had drafted them on the screen. This would lead to clunky, unnatural tongue-twisters.

I received some extremely helpful feedback in a long phone call with my mentor after sending him a draft:

  • Lots and lots of positive enforcement.
  • He pointed out a couple of uses of inappropriate language: “sexually frustrated” and “Turn your f-ing music off” (“f-ing” doesn’t really conceal the non-shortened word well enough). So I reworked those.
  • Some pure gold advice: if you ask the audience a question, ask the inverse as-well to make everyone feel included. “Who here is friends with their neighbours?” was paired with “Whose relationship with their neighbours has room for improvement?”. And raise your left hand when you ask the question making it more likely that all those right handed people in the audience will “mirror” your gesture and raise their own hand.
  • We discussed the art of telling a good story, specifically “The Hero’s Journey”: a commonly used story structure.

Learning

Using notes in a speech doesn’t look impressive. Having index cards is better than a piece of A4 flapping around, but you still have to break eye contact to read them and it restricts what you can do with your hands. My intention with this speech was not to use notes.

It only took a day to commit to memory. I was quite surprised by this and had started learning it two weeks in advance!

In the morning I decided to see how far I could get through my speech without referring to my notes. If I couldn’t remember something I skipped on to a part I could remember. And I recorded myself, then listened back to it while checking it against the original text. (Another great tip from my mentor: listen back at twice the speed to save time.) At this stage I edited a few sentences to make them simpler and easier to remember. After doing this a few times I was able to recite the whole speech without notes. Initially there were some long pauses as I struggled to remember the next line, but these went away the more I practiced.

Presenting in front of someone was a different matter entirely. I presented it to my girlfriend over skype, with my heart beating twice the speed the whole way through. Then I presented it to my friend (thanks again Martin!) in my living room, after three false starts I managed to get through the whole thing. I realised that as long as I could recall the first few sentences the rest would flow.

On the night

I went through the speech about six times while walking to the club, attracting some odd looks. Sitting through the table topics section helped to keep my mind off the speech, and get me in a happy mood. During the break I went outside and ran though the entire speech again.

Waiting to be introduced and walking up to the front seemed to take forever, and as the clapping died away and I knew I had to say something I just hoped for the best and got on with it.

The feedback afterwards was entusiastic and expertly delivered. I had a spot on and really funny evaluation (“first recommendation: don’t ever admit you were born in Liverpool”), and lots of people took the time to give me their feedback slips amidst a torrent of positivity.

Audience Feedback

It was great fun and I’m looking forward to my number two speech.

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