Your Toastmasters Journey

At Toastmasters, we teach by doing, and when we teach, we learn twice.

The Toastmasters Pathways program emphasizes the repeated delivery of icebreakers for good reasons. The first speech every member, new or existing, delivers to begin each new path is the Icebreaker. However, you soon will realize whenever you step on a speaking platform, you first must break the ice. And breaking the ice is a skill every speaker must master.

Icebreakers help you, and your audience relax. At the same time, you often learn something new about your fellow club members or even speak about someone you know very well – yourself. They also provide you with the tools to develop your model for preparing and delivering personal stories and future projects.

Your Icebreakers can be on any topic, informational or humorous. First-time Toastmasters may take the opportunity to introduce themselves. They may choose to speak about when they first realized they needed Toastmasters to improve their public speaking skills. Do you remember yours?

Seasoned speakers accustomed to the traditional program may ask – “Why should I have to do an Icebreaker to begin each new path in Pathways. That is ridiculous! I have delivered many in my five, ten, or fifteen years as a Toastmaster. So what’s that all about!”

My answer is simple. In a well-delivered icebreaker, you will find all the elements of a good speech structure. At Toastmasters, we teach by doing, and when we teach, we learn twice. So I say, challenge yourself to make your good icebreakers better until they become your best speeches.

Icebreakers encourage all members to speak in front of live audiences. The allotted time for an Icebreaker is four to six minutes. Your set time limit has a specific purpose. First, they help transform talkers into becoming speakers. Speakers focus on structure, the economy of words, and most importantly, delivering their message in an allowed time. You receive green, yellow, and red notices to indicate your timing as your speech progresses.

While there is no single recipe or formula for preparing a speech, fundamentals can make you more comfortable on the speaking platform. Start with the basic format, your opening, body, and conclusion. As you become more comfortable with that structure for your icebreakers, you will notice a natural tendency to approach your longer speeches similarly. The following are a few more tips you should try.

A good icebreaker model is to discuss where you were, where you are, and where you are heading. Another is, you make an opening remark that is your “Foundational Statement.” The foundation statement is a sentence or phrase on which you will build the rest of your presentation. For example – I am an extrovert – In 2001, I went to prison (pause) to speak at a gavel club or – I am not a chief, but I love to cook. Then, you build on your Foundational Statement.

Storytelling is the foundation of public speaking. After greeting your audience, tell a story to make a point, or make a point, then tell a story. As you develop your speaking skills, you will learn the secret to becoming a better speaker is simply – You make a point, then tell a story or tell a story to make your point. That is a tried, tested, and proven formula.

One of the most important exercises every speaker should do is, discover their speaking rate – The number of words they speak per minute. Read a passage at the same speed you usually talk for one minute. Then, count the number of words you read. That number is your wpm. The average wpm for men is between 125 and 130. The average for women is between 130 and 150.  

Speakers can then use their wpm to calculate their speech’s word count. For a four-to-six-minute speech, the formula is 6 Minutes minus 1 = 5 times your wpm. For a five to seven-minute speech: 7 Minutes minus -1 = 6 times your wpm. Your word count allows time for pauses and laughter. A word count of between 750 and 780 for most speakers, male or female, is average.

After completing your presentation, you will get an evaluation and feedback. Your evaluator will highlight what they saw, heard, and felt. How you receive each evaluation can determine your success as you continue your Toastmaster’s journey. You will not like every evaluation you receive; however, you should save them all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. They all are valuable. One day you too will be an evaluator.  

In your evaluations and feedback, look at your weaknesses and strengths. And as you continue to develop, you will realize the first thing we all do instinctively when we step on the speaking platform is break the ice – the icy steers – the cold feet. That’s a good reason why Icebreakers are worth delivering over and over. And honestly, some of the best speeches I have ever heard in my many years as a Toastmaster were Icebreakers, so keep breaking the ice. It is a skill well worth mastering.

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmasters in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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