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.

Toastmasters and Competition Season

Competition season is with us again, and I’m so pleased that we’re now spending our weekend evenings with the curtains closed and one of the talent shows on the telly – X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are both getting into their stride, and Mike’s re-discovered his talent for acting as a fifth judge. He also has a really weird ability to guess the scores on Strictly before they come up.

I’ve had a new contest in my life this year, too; we had our Toastmasters area competition day this past weekend, with members of our club competing against people from five other clubs in our area.  Each had already held its own competition to choose entrants for the two rounds taking place on the day, Humorous Speaking and Table Topics (Table Topics are short, unprepared speeches on a theme given immediately beforehand – they’re great fun, but also a real challenge).

We were treated to 18 great speeches during the afternoon, on themes including health and safety, policing, dating, the x factor, dreams, nightmares and the power of ambition.

Our winners go through to the division contest in Manchester later this month, and there’s a final round taking place in Glasgow in November.

When I joined Toastmasters earlier this year, I was there to learn about public speaking and to perhaps meet a few new people. It’s become a real highlight for me and I’m learning so much about far more than speaking.

When we have events like the area competition, it’s great to feel part of a team and go along to root for each other. It also gives us chance to meet people from elsewhere and have a lot of fun together.

We’ve been having a bit of a membership drive at our club recently, and one of our members spent some time creating a video that gives a bit of an insight into our sessions.  So here’s Fred with a bit of info about us…

There are Toastmasters groups all over the world; there’s some information here about joining a Toastmasters club near you.

Planning my First Speech

Picture by Marc Wathieu.

“So, have you volunteered to do your speech yet?”

There had been a flurry of emails last week about the planning of last night’s Toastmasters session; up until the middle of the week, there hadn’t been any speeches scheduled. And I’d happened to mention to Mike that I’d had an email about it.

Toastmasters is many, many things aside from Public Speaking, but the speaking part is very much at the centre.

I’ve been going along for about three months now. So that’s around six sessions (ours are second and forth Mondays). I’ve taken small roles on; ah-counter (counting ‘ah’s and ‘um’s and other hesitations) and timekeeper, and I’ve done one table topic (an instant one minute speech). I’m still swimming around the shallow end, and even that’s not been entirely plain sailing.

The next step, really, is getting started on doing the prepared speeches.

There are ten to do in the first set; they cover all sorts of themes and tasks, and I think that by the end of it most people would be worthy of the ‘Competent Communicator’ title.

The first one is the Icebreaker. An introduction. A kind of “Hello, group. This is me.”

There’s some comfort in that other components of speaking well come later; there are speeches focused on getting to the point, body language, vocal variety, using visual aids and being inspirational. It’s all about building each of those things in turn.

In the beginning, it really is just about having the courage to stand up and talk. The speech needs to be between four and six minutes. Sounds like the simplest thing in the world, doesn’t it?

It’s odd, I know, to take on a hobby that’s real ‘out of my comfort zone’ stuff. But then imagine having a couple of hours every two weeks to spend in the company of 20 other people all stretching themselves, learning together and really – and this is the magic – just willing each other to succeed.

(There are Toastmasters groups just like ours all over the world – click here to find one close to you).

Joining Toastmasters

I went along as a guest of our local Toastmasters group this evening.  I’d been looking for a bit of something to do outside of work and decided that it sounded like this might be the thing.

I’ve also been attempting to get myself started on blogging again; for the past couple of months I’ve been catching up on old blogs that I used to read, following links to new ones and marvelling at the kinds of things that people find to write about. And not getting very much at all done by way of establishing my own blog.

Talking with people tonight at Toastmasters, it seems that I’m going to experience something similar in trying to come up with themes to speak about.  I’m pondering on how best to approach that, whilst at the same time marvelling at the people there tonight who managed the table topics with ease and were able to rise to the challenge of being able to speak on any given theme at a moment’s notice.

I’m really pleased to have been there, and definitely want to join up properly and get started on the programme.  It’s great to have the chance to develop something out of work that has a serious side to it as well as the social aspect.  It’s also given me a bit of impetus to start blogging again – getting my creative side back into gear on two counts will be really interesting.