Sunday, 9 August 2015


Break the barrier

According to dictionary “Icebreaker” is a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters” and “for a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most normal ships lack: a strengthened hull, an ice-clearing shape, and the power to push through ice-covered waters”. 

In real world Ice Breaker is a term which describes an activity which reduces tension and anxiety in a group. Thus, it is fitting that the first Toastmaster speech project is titled "The Ice Breaker". This speech requires willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, courage to speak in front of a group and eagerness to kill the fear of speaking.

The Aim

The Ice Breaker speech has three aims:

Introduce yourself.    Your ice breaker speech topic is you – anything and everything about you can be the topic for example your life, your job, your hobbies, your interests, your family, or any combination of these. You are the absolute authority on this topic.

Begin to conquer the fear of speaking in front of a group.           It is always a nerve wracking experience to start speaking in front of a new group, but remember the Toastmaster environment is meant to be supportive and almost everyone in the audience has gone through that experience and understands what you are feeling.  If you get up, say something even a hello, and sit down, you have succeeded in this project.

Provide a “base line” of yourself.     New members joining the group has varied level of experience, some may be giving the first speech of the life, while others have years of presentations/public speaking behind them. No matter where you fit in, your goal is to improve from where you are. This first speech helps the club members to gauge your current strengths and weekness so that they can make specific recommendations for your improvement. Remember they will only gauge you against yourself; there is no grading in the Toastmaster culture.

Tips & Ideas

Chronological Approach.      Start at any point you wish, then give the highlights of your life in order until the time you became a member of Toastmasters.

Topical approach.     Another approach to the speech can be the topical approach, e.g. the best moments of life, the places you lived or the funniest moment. Try to keep them linked with each other.

Common Thread.                   For instance, if you love travelling and are in a job that is travel oriented. Then you could use travel as pivot point and talk about the exotic places while talking about your job and passion. Remember you will be more confident while talking about the topic that you love.

Humour Reduces Nervousness.      If you are comfortable incorporating humour into your ice breaker, go for it. The laughs from the audience will reduce your nervousness. An easy way to do this is to make a self-deprecating joke at the start. Don’t worry if they are not good, you are here to improve.

Ask for Help               If you have a mentor, don’t hesitate to ask them for help. If you don’t, feel free to ask any other club member. They perhaps they will share their icebreaker speech. Perhaps they can help you select a topic. Perhaps you can practice with them it privately before the meeting. All other members have gone through the Ice Breaker before, and can provide words of encouragement. The basic framework of Toastmaster is based on mutual encouragement.

Remember every person is unique, the above are not rules, it is just guidance. Recently I heard a member City of Perth Toastmasters Club making his Ice breaking speech in third person. The approach was unique and refreshing. It enhanced the humour of the speech.

Techniques for delivering

Practice Helps.           You don’t need to practice the speech 35 times or have it memorized. However, your nervousness will be reduced considerably if you give it a few  practice runs out loud (even if your only audience is you).

Timing            The recommended time for the Ice Breaker speech is four to six minutes. It may seem like a long time, but in later projects, you’ll start wishing you had much more time to deliver your message. Don’t worry too much about going under or over time, try to be in range.

Notes              There are no rules on the use of notes. If you need notes, use them. If you don’t need notes, don’t. Either way, don’t worry about it. It’s okay if you read your ice breaker from a script (just try to look up once in a while, I read my ice breaker speech from the notes without probably looking up), if you refer to cue cards, or if you talk without notes.

Don’t Expect to be the best.              This is your first challenge. Nobody expects you to be a world-class orator. They know you are here to work on it.  Just give it your best shot.

Speak Up and Slow Down.               Two common effects of nervousness are mumbling words and racing through the speech. Try to have a slower pace. It will also give you that more time to recollect your speech. Try to avoid these, but don’t worry if you can’t help it.

Fake it.                        Fake the confidence if you don’t have it. The audiences are not mind readers; they only understand what your body tells them.  As time flies and you give more speech, the confidence will grow and you don’t have to fake.

Apologizing                You may feel the necessity to apologize to your audience (e.g. for uttering too many “Um”s, forgetting your speech, etc.). There is no need to do so! More often than not they don’t notice the glitches. They probably will notice only when you apologize.

In the next post, we will be discussing my Ice Breaker speech and the background.