Breaking the Ice

by Vincent Li DTM

“The Ice Breaker” – your very first prepared speech in Toastmasters. This could be one of the toughest speech a member might be doing. The idea is to get over your initial nervousness about speaking in front of a group. The time is only four to six minutes, but some people might felt it’s like four or six hours! Actually, it isn’t so bad. The whole idea is to talk about yourself, so your fellow members get to know you a little better. You should try to do your first speech within a month of joining the club. If you wait too long, you will keep finding new excuses to put it off. “You should just take the bull by the horn and just go for it,” a new Toastmaster I knew suggested before he took the plunge.

You will be surprise at how much you have to talk about and four to six minutes really isn’t that much time. It is ok to talk about your life, from childhood to now, but it can be much too long. The suggestion the manual gives is to focus on just one aspect of your life, and I couldn’t agree more. My first Ice Breaker went on for 12 minutes, and I was just talking about my job interviews! Talk about your favourite hobby, or what kind of jobs have you done, or some of your most memorable travel experiences. These are all a part of you. Some people would like to write out their Ice Breakers to organize their thoughts. One trick I have found is for the average speech of 5-7 minutes, it should fit on one to a page and half of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, depending on how large you write and how fast you talk. If you wrote any more than that, it’s way too long! For 4-6 minutes, it should be no more than one page (one side).

If you do write out your speech, don’t try to memorize the whole thing! It should only be used as a way to organize your thoughts. Once you got it written out, make an outline of what you are going to say. Try not to use much more notes than the outline since afterall, you are talking about yourself. If it does make you feel more comfortable, you can read your speech and learn to use the lectern. It is fine to read and stand behind the lectern as long as you still try to maintain eye contact with the audience and not read to the lectern. Inject different pitch or volume to emphasize portions of your speech. Your manual already has some of these outlined.

Come up with an interesting title. That is always a good idea for any speech. Give just enough to tease the audience but not enough for them to know where you might be heading. Here’s some that I’ve tried, with various levels of intrigue and interest: “Not My Sex Life”, “Still No Sex Life”, “Me, Myself and I”, “Turning Point”.

For my very first Ice Breaker, I talked about the several interviews I had which lead me to my first job at MPR Teltech. I combined that with some interesting tidbits of travel (travelling to the interviews), but I went way over time. I should have concentrated on one particular interview and kept the other ones only cursory. I was working on a second Ice Breaker which ended up being a Humorous Contest speech. That was a better one – more focused and just over 5 minutes. (Yes, that was the infamous “Still No Sex Life”).

For the more experienced speakers, you may want to consider doing another CTM and trying your hands at the Ice Breaker again. Consider what you now know, how would you have done differently. And for veteran members, it’s also a good idea since many of the newer members probably haven’t heard your Ice Breaker and it’s one way to let them know you a bit better as well.