We’ve got a new member or two in our Toastmasters club. They’re working through the Toastmasters education program Pathways and selected their paths. As they get ready to give their ice breaker speeches, I’ve been asked for advice.
What do you tell someone who’s getting ready to give their first speech in Toastmasters?
Today, we’ll talk about how to coach someone – or how to look at your first speech – and what not to expect.
Do you dream of changing the world? With a goal that big, you need the leadership skills and public speaking expertise to make your dream come true. Toastmasters is dedicated to teaching these skills in a fun and safe environment. We’re meeting online right now – so you can join any club in the world. This is Toastmasters 101 podcast, and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.
Ice Breaker Speeches
Have you heard the statistic out there that 90% or so of members join Toastmasters to learn public speaking? I believe it. In the past couple of months, we’ve gotten three new members in our club that span the range of the average member: terrified, motivated, and aware of their shortcomings in the face of change in their career.
How do you advise them about their ice breaker speeches?
There are a few things I’ve noticed about the first speech a member gives. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in the club – stepping up to the lectern creates nervous sensations. Their heart flutters, their breath stops, their knees tremble.
I don’t think it’s much different online. The circumstance are different, indeed, but let’s take a long look.
It’s still a first speech – no matter how well you know the audience, you’re doing something new and it’s intimidating.
Let’s compare this with any other time you speak up. You don’t know how people are going to react. You fear they’re going to judge you. You have no idea what’s going to happen.
Ice breaker speeches are nerve wreckers.
Isn’t that funny? The word nerve can mean the wherewithal to speak up and nerves can mean the fears you feel to stop you from speaking.
That’s the first thing I think you should not expect:
Don’t expect that you’ll be comfortable right away.
In fact, that’s a good thing. You need to have some discomfort. You have to recognize that you’re at the start and nobody starts at the beginning and does something well. Especially something that most people fear.
Do perfectionists have a harder time learning public speaking? I think so. It’s hard to become perfect at an art – you can be creative, you can strive and try new things and fail miserably at that impossible dream inside your head… You judge yourself harshly for failures that are simply mistakes made in ignorance.
This is one reason that Toastmasters is so effective at teaching public speaking – we give you the floor and the space to stand up. And fall down.
Perfectionists hate that.
That’s the next thing
I want to tell you not to expect: perfection in your ice breaker speeches
You’re going to be… human. Imperfect. You’re going to make mistakes that 7-year olds know better than to do. You might um and ah your way through 2 minutes or go long into 9 or 10.
So if you’re a perfectionist who needs to learn public speaking, you’ve got a bigger challenge to overcome.
I know what I’m talking about – I’m a perfectionist and every speech, every presentation, I know exactly what I did wrong – like tonight, I forgot to look at the camera and instead, looked at the faces right above it. I forgot to give someone an evaluation form – which really stinks because this was a great Level 5 project. And most of all – I forgot to share my screen so my audience could see my slides.
You hear that banging noise? That’s me, banging my head on my desk.
That perfectionism makes becoming a public speaker harder – but it can be done. The new member who has come to us with desperation to improve – I see his battle, and I know how hard it will be. But I also see his sheer determination to continue to work on the skills he knows that he needs.
I respect this guy a lot. I look forward to his next speech – that will finish his level 1 in his path. We should have a party!
Speaking first, leadership later
That resolve is what is going to make a leader. But I’m not going to talk about leadership to someone working on their first ice breaker speeches.
Have you ever seen a little kid with a bowl full of batter? You know what’s going to happen – more is going to be on the floor or on the kid than will be in the baking pan. It’s too much and there’s just not the strength for the child to pour the batter without making a mess.
I’m not saying an adult doesn’t have any strength – not at all. But the immediate focus we need when we coach a new member working on their ice breaker isn’t leadership – it’s rhetoric.
Yes, that old-fashioned word that’s usually reserved for political speeches started out as the name of the art of speech-crafting and delivery. It is an art.
One thing that I don’t feel Toastmasters does particularly well is present the techniques of rhetoric. Some of them are covered – were covered in the classic education program – such as repetition and alliteration.
But there are DOZENS more. There’s so much more! Some we use because our language demands it – we have hundreds of phrases that are commonplace that we barely notice anymore. We use phrases like similes “it’s raining cats and dogs” – do not ask me where that came from. We use metaphors “all the world’s a stage” – thank you, Shakespeare.
But we go beyond words to how we compose our thoughts – we work with paradoxes – two competing ideas that exist together. We use oxymorons – a noun with a contradictory adjective, like “jumbo shrimp.” We exaggerate – use hyperbole – “His joke killed the audience.” Unless he’s up for manslaughter, I doubt anyone died.
Here’s the last thing that a new speaker should not expect:
You shouldn’t expect criticism.
This difference between Toastmasters and most other ways to learn public speaking is immediate feedback. If you attend a seminar, will you get immediate feedback if you get on the stage? If you watch a webinar or a tutorial, how can you get any feedback?
Toastmasters has been around for nearly 100 years. We’ve learned a few things about how to give feedback to a speaker. I don’t know that it’s written anywhere – but it’s commonly practiced and learned from older, experienced Toastmasters: we don’t give ice breaker speeches heavy points of growth. We are encouraging – not criticizing.
Feedback isn’t criticism. Feedback is one person’s opinion. It’s not binding on you. But learning from your audience’s reaction is a priceless benefit. Look, merchants pay for this kind of customer reaction. It’s that important to you.
So if you get a point of growth in the evaluation of your first ice breaker speeches, take it seriously. It’s a sign of our respect and encouragement that we don’t hammer you on your first speech. But you may hear one point of growth and you should take it seriously.
This is my advice to new toastmasters as they approach their ice breaker speeches:
Relax. Try to enjoy it. Take some time before you’re introduced to think about what your body is doing – not how you’re feeling. Those stage fright symptoms are telling you something and you’ll do better to learn from them than try to fight them.
Make your first speech about you so I get to know who you are. Why you’re here. What you want to learn.
Over time, you’re going to watch many speeches. You’re going to see people do things and… fail spectacularly. You’ll see others try something amazing and want to try it yourself.
That’s what you shouldn’t expect at a Toastmasters meeting – a bunch of people pushing you down. We are here to lift you up and help you improve.
That’s what I want to say to new Toastmasters as they get ready to step up onto the stage.
Art, not Science
Giving a speech is an art, not a science. As much as advertisement writers and marketers want there to be the perfect combination of words that will compel every reader or listener to do exactly what they’re told to do – the fact is that speech is art. It’s that unique blend of experience and words and moment.
That’s actually the fun of speech.
If you’re coaching a new Toastmaster as they get ready to give their first ice breaker speeches, you’re welcome to recommend Toastmasters 101 podcast as a resource to them. But what do you tell new Toastmasters as they prepare? Leave me a message on the Toastmasters 101 podcast Facebook page – what advice do you give?
Cuyahoga Falls Toastmasters – Elite Toastmasters Club
I’m shifting gears right now because I want to recognize a singular event. As of the time I record this, only one club in the world has succeeded in achieving all the goals of the Distinguished Club Program – classic education program and Pathways – all 16 goals – for the three consecutive years it was possible to do so.
District 10 would like to recognize the accomplishment of Cuyahoga Falls Toastmasters. The members of the club have worked hard for three years to accomplish all of these goals and maintain the membership for the club to be able to claim to be the elite Toastmasters club of District 10, and of the world.
Toastmasters is here to help you develop your personal art of public speaking. You’re welcome to visit a club to discover the voice inside you and the leader you can become. Find a club at Toastmasters.org slash Find a Club and check us out soon. Most of our meetings are now online, so you can join us from the comfort of your own home.
Talk to you next time on Toastmasters 101 podcast.
"Running Fanfare" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/