Toastmasters Icebreaker

A week ago, I gave my Toastmasters Icebreaker speech; my first prepared speech after almost a year of being part of Doncaster Speakers.

I’ve mentioned before that joining Toastmasters – an international speaking and leadership organisation – was perhaps an odd choice of hobby for me.

I have huge anxieties about public speaking.  I’m fine at reading aloud. I used to be alright at acting and hiding behind a character.  On lazy Sunday mornings, I can happily imagine that I could be a great orator. Even in my pyjamas.

But in front of anyone else, I worry that I’ll go to pieces.

I’m not alone. Apparently, fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death.

I guess that there are three main ways that people will deal with that fear; avoidance tactics and delegation (so one never has to do it at all), pushing through and doing it anyway (and I’m guessing that pretty often means doing it badly), or somehow working through it properly.

That’s what Toastmasters helps us to do – to work through the components of speaking and develop a whole range of skills.  Of course, it’s not just for people who arrive with a fear – some of the people in our club have been great speakers all the time I’ve been going and they seem to be totally at ease. But even they’ve made great strides forward in really honing their skills and being better every time.

 

I spent about two weeks practicing my Icebreaker.

I wrote it first just as I’d write a blog post. That was a little revelation to me; I’d thought that my blogging was quite conversational, but writing to speak is totally different.

The first time I did it as a speech – three Sundays ago – was just to Mike. I was awful. It took me about four attempts to get beyond a minute in because I was so anxious about it.

I practiced a few times on Mike over the two weeks, kept my script with me for any spare moments and had learned it by heart a couple of days before the session.

For my final run, I was just exactly as I’d be dressed at the session – even down to wearing my outdoor shoes on the lounge carpet. I think that was really important for me because most of my run-throughs had been disrupted by me fiddling with something I was either carrying or wearing.

I felt the kind of nervous theatrical thing I used to feel before being in a show – something I’ve not felt for years and years – and by the time it came to my turn to speak, I was really just wanting it over with.

But it was fine. I’d go so far as to say that I quite enjoyed it.  I got loads of lovely feedback from other members, and I was given the Best Speaker ribbon at the end of the night.

I actually feel that now I’ve got started and done one speech, the others are bound to be a little easier.  We have ten speeches to work though in our first section – the Competent Communicator.  Each builds in a new skill.

I can’t emphasise enough how this kind of system is better than any one-day seminar or practice course could ever be. This is twice a month for as long as I’m a member, with almost every session offering a chance to join in with either speaking or evaluation in some way. The group is fairly small and very committed to each other – so we’re all growing together.

 

There are so many of us who have something we want to say or share.  Possibly some of us are already doing that but could use some help and some genuine constructive feedback. It’s so sad that so many of us have this horrible fear – but I’m so glad I’ve found somewhere to work on it.

 

If you’d like to join your local branch of Toastmasters International – there are groups all across the world – click here to use the Club Finder.  Most groups seem to offer the first session free to guests.  I promise you that it’s well worth spending a couple of hours of your time to find out whether it might be for you.

Mama’s Losin’ It
I’m linking up with Mama Kat this Thursday – one of her Writer’s Workshop prompts is about having an attack of the nerves.

My Relationship with Words

Pen, Writing, Love of Words

Picture from Cute Little Factory

I’ve always loved words.

I was one of those children who read everything.

I’d read the words on the cereal boxes and whisper them so I could sense how they felt. Riboflavin. Thiamin. Magnesium.  I wondered a little about what they meant, and I loved the familiarity of seeing them every day.

I’d make little rhythms out of things written on the side of toys – “Safe, Non-Toxic, Colours Blend” on the edge of the play-dough tub became a little chant for me every time we played with it.

(I know. I was a strange child).

I’d read roadsigns and make words from car number plates.

I’d get caught up in the romantic poetry of Rogers and Hammerstein’s showtunes, and I’d sing them over and over.

 

I have two early memories of writing.

One is sitting with my grandad as he taught me to write my name pretty much as I still write it today.

The other is a story I wrote when I was about 9. I remember very little of it, other than that I wrote it out longhand on sheets of lined paper. And that it had a rabbit in it, although I don’t think it was actually about the rabbit.  I remember a bit of a fuss about it being good, and I remember a bit of me wanting it to be my thing and not something that other people got excited about.

Writing was my place to disappear to.

 

I’ve written throughout my life, whether it’s been to remember an experience, or to express something and persuade others.  I’ve written privately in diaries and found having that space to write hugely therapeutic when things have been really tough. That kind of writing comes really easily to me because I don’t have to worry about anyone else viewing it and judging it.

When I write knowing that my words will be read by someone else, though, I feel that I have to be more careful. I want to craft things properly, and sometimes I know that I over-craft things so much that they become stilted.

 

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year now, and I’ve learned so much about writing.  I still feel that I’m at the beginning, though.

I guess that one year in marks a good time to set out some writing challenges for the next 12 months:

- Writing more regularly and focusing on practice rather than perfection.

- Following along with more challenges – including word limits – to help me focus on different aspects of writing.

- Attempting to pull a more natural voice through to my writing, so that I’m putting more of me into each post.

- Learning more about writing for speaking. I’ve just done my first prepared speech at Toastmasters, and I’ve really noticed how different my spoken voice is to my written one.  I’m guessing that writing for speaking will help with bringing a more natural style to all of my writing.

 

I want to continue to enjoy it too.  More than ever before, the writing I’ve done over the past year has given me huge enjoyment and a great sense of accomplishment. It’s helped me to express parts of me that I don’t normally share, and I’ve started to connect with other people who I admire hugely.  I’ve also had some lovely feedback and lots of encouragement.

I’m so very grateful for the privilege of an education that taught me to love words in so many ways.

 

I wrote this piece for the Dare to Share linkup about Relationships with Writing over at The Lightning and The Lightning Bug.