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.

Your Carnegie Hall of Public Speaking

Whatever you practice becomes permanent.

A story often told to aspiring musicians is about a young violinist flagging down a New Your City cabbie to ask: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall.” And the cabby in a New York minute, without skipping a beat replied ” practice! practice!! practice!!! dear friend” And your fare may also suddenly double as your cabbie takes you the scenic route.

Similarly, if you ask anyone who coaches speakers professionally, how do you go from good to great? They will tell you- you must know when to practice, what to practice, how to practice, and why you practice. They will also advise you to practice as you intend to deliver your presentations when facing your audiences. And you must also practice until you are comfortable with who you are and the message you plan to deliver.

Having a great speech is only one of the first steps in bringing that speech to the platform. It is a process. The word practice can be a verb or a noun. In the speaking world, practice is a verb. You are performing an activity or exercise. When you repeatedly complete a skill, you improve or maintain your proficiency. Doctors and lawyers have practices. Their practice, the noun, defines the type of business or service they provide.

Whether your practice is a verb or noun, the purpose is to keep improving; perfection is an opinion or an illusion. However, whatever you practice will become permanent. For that reason, it is crucial to examine your practices as you practice. Your practice approach will determine your success or failure when you are on the platform.

For example, rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving, or lying in bed is not exactly practicing. You are sequencing. You are just arranging your thoughts in a particular order. While that is helpful, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing puts your presentation’s words, paragraphs, and ideas in the correct order in your head. While sequencing is an essential step in your preparation, it is not ready for delivery when that speech is still in your head.

You must then move that presentation from your head to your heart. You can choose to avoid that extra step of sequencing. Instead, some speakers prefer to practice as if they are always speaking to an audience. That approach helps the speaker develop muscle memory, which you cannot do effectively in bed, shower, or driving. It requires your total body involvement. Accentuating the six emotions as you practice is most important. Those emotions are happiness – sadness – fear – anger – surprise, and disgust.  

You should also avoid practicing in front of mirrors. Speakers tend to focus more on themselves when they practice in front of a mirror. Instead, the focus should be on your audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. But you will find recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction. You may find yourself focusing on every little mistake you made and not running your speech from start to finish. Again, what you practice becomes permanent.

Just as that young musician had to practice the works of the masters to attain a standard to perform at Carnegie Hall, speakers should also study the speeches of speakers they admire. As you listen and analyze their speeches, take note – they tell a story to make a point, or make a point and then tell a story. They deliver their stories with conviction using those emotions to which all humankind relates. And with practice, your storytelling becomes natural as you become an authentic storyteller. 

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. But how they practiced was also very important. They also had specific workout routines. They had different exercises and drills for each day. Before they began to practice, they knew what to focus on during each session. They knew how many times they would practice each routine. And they practice uninterrupted from start to finish.

Speakers should also make sure they practice delivering their presentations to an audience. If you don’t have an audience, create one – chairs, trees, dolls. Use whatever that will not talk back to you. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right. And the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking – at your club, contests, or who knows – The World Championship of Public Speaking.

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