What is an Icebreaker Speech at Toastmasters?
An Icebreaker is essentially the first project in any path of Toastmasters, the one that kick-starts your journey with the organisation. It is a short speech, about four to six minutes in length, the primary objective of which is to introduce yourself to the club.
The Icebreaker, or Project 1 (P1), is one of the last common links between the former curriculum of Toastmasters that which included CC and CL etc. and the new Pathways. If you’re wondering what’s the difference between an Icebreaker Speech before & after Pathways, there is none.
The Icebreaker speech in both the manuals is the same with the same objectives. It is beyond this project that the curriculums diverge in different directions. So irrespective of whether you are on the old curriculum or the new one, if you are giving an Icebreaker, this article is aimed at helping you sail past swiftly and smoothly.
All projects at Toastmasters are defined with a given set of objectives and for the Icebreaker the objectives are simple. They are –
- To begin speaking in front of an audience
- To discover the speaking skills that you already have and the ones that need attention.
This article aims to introduce you to the basics of speechwriting and editing that will help you draft your Icebreaker, a healthy prep routine and other important things to keep in mind as you begin your public speaking journey.
I have broken down the article into 3 major steps:
Towards the end of the article, we have also included a short list of Sample Icebreaker Speeches which you can download for your reference. You can click here if you want to go to that section directly.
Drafting Your Icebreaker Speech
What Type of Icebreaker Speech do You Want to Write?
On the surface, this seems easy. All you have to do is introduce yourself to the club but it’s only when you begin mulling over it will you realize that it is going to be a tough job to clock in at least 500 words. I have often seen two kinds of Icebreaker Speeches.
- The first type of Icebreaker is the one where the speaker in literally a span of four to six minutes strives to sketch his/her entire life for the audience. Right from where they are from to their school to the college, work and in some cases about their families and children as well.
- The second type of Icebreaker that I have usually seen is the one which appeals to me the most. The one where the speaker comes forth and presents an interesting episode of their life and how it changed them over time.
Both the types have their pros and cons. The first type can often get a little boring since it focuses more on the factual information like where the speaker grew up, where they got their education and how they landed up their job, in some cases also about their spouses and children and eventually how they ended up at Toastmasters and what do they look to take from here.
If this is the type of Icebreaker that you had envisioned let me tell you that you this too can be made interesting. A simple way to do this is to bind the speech around the basic science of speechwriting –The Undisputed Power of Three Narratives.
An easy thing would be to pick up an incident from childhood, then one from teenage/early adulthood and one from college or workspace. Ensure that your anecdotes are short and crisp so that you don’t exceed the time limit and that they all introduce different facets of yourself to the audience.
For eg. I once heard an Icebreaker where a college student spoke about how he used to love playing cricket as a schoolboy, moved to the guitar in high school and is eventually now passionate about working in the finance sector.
Three narratives that introduced us to three different part of his life but he bound them at the end by saying how passions change with time and age and with more exposure to reality.
The second type of Icebreaker, if that’s what’s on your mind is actually an interesting one. Here I have seen people bring forth the most interesting anecdotes and explain them in detail and via that introducing themselves.
I once heard a speaker build his Icebreaker on his tough battle against smoking and how leaving it changed him. I wrote mine around my experience of changing cities for college and how this experience changed me.
This type of Icebreaker usually leaves you with a greater room for creativity to thrive and the wackier the experience the more attention the audience will give. It also doesn’t get monotonous like the previous one where there may be a greater possibility of a continuous non dramatic flow of information from the speaker to the audience.
Remember an Icebreaker might also be your first attempt at speechwriting so be kind to yourself.
Researching for the Icebreaker
This might sound funny, why would you need to research for a speech where you have to introduce yourself but believe me you need to.
Researching doesn’t always mean going online. Researching also means that you reach out to your mentor and other club members who have just done their speeches. Walk up to them and ask for tips. If they’re okay sharing their speeches and video recordings of it, learn from them as well.
Remember the 1-100-1 formula…
A school senior who has been a two time Ted Speaker once introduced me to what I now call the 1-100-1 formula. The 1-100-1 formula expands to illustrate that for every 1 minute that you spend onstage you speak not more than 100 words and for every 100 words you speak there has to be 1 hour of research, writing, editing and rewriting that should go in. The second part of the formula, the research and editing bit you may want to save for later projects but the first part surely implies here.
The Basic Outline of an Icebreaker Speech
A fellow toastmaster once heard a draft of my speech that began with a quote and told me that it was the most cliché of all beginnings and that it might put off the attention of the audience. This is not true. Having a non-quote beginning is great but you can make your way around a quote one also. Let me take you through both.
1. The Quirky Way to Begin
You can begin a speech with a question, or an absurd fact or a statistic or a randomly thrown statement. These all work as engaging beginnings. You can work your way around these then.
For ex. I began my speech with a question, “Who wouldn’t want to leave home”. I once heard a speaker begin his with “Did you know that crabs can crawl backwards as well?” etc. These often work in terms of the fact that they engage the audience instantaneously for the first few seconds and then a strong narrative from thereon can take off.
2. The Traditional Quote Beginning
If you’re looking to begin a speech with quotes you can use a trick that I once heard someone at my club pull. Instead of using just one quote he used three similar ones and managed to evoke curiosity. You can also to use three quotes that are completely unrelated to each other and still manage to evoke curiosity.
The power of three can be used in any way and not just in narratives. Remember, Toastmasters as a platform will never curb your creativity unless you resort to talking about religion, sex and politics something that is not permitted at any Toastmasters club worldwide.
Related Article: 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own)
This is where the major chunk of your speech lies. Your stories take a full-fledged shape here and hence this requires the most amount of attention. This shouldn’t scare you. Just draft it as naturally as you can and run it by your mentor or another Toastmaster friend and take their opinion.
Ensure that the start of your story is at the end of the introduction and then unraveling in the body. The sample speeches attached will give you a better idea of how to go about this. Make sure the transitions are fluid and seem seamless.
There is no shortcut here but the repeated practice of writing and rewriting and editing. You can always seek help from your mentor or also any other Non-Toastmaster friend who you think is good with writing.
Personally, in my experience, the speeches that have stayed with me long after the speaker gets off stage have been the ones that have had the speakers conclude in a positive, cheery, happy and uplifting note.
Always remember, most studies state the attention span of the audience is the greatest in the first seven seconds and then the last seven. Like you strive to capture the audience’s attention in the first seven, try to leave them mesmerized in the last seven.
An Icebreaker, especially since it’s one of the most personal speeches that you will ever give, leaves ample room for the audience to be left feeling warm and fuzzy. Check the sample speeches attached. They will give you a better idea of it.
The title is the first thing the audience will hear so make sure it catches their attention and makes them want to hear more. It should be aimed at whetting their appetite and leave them asking for more. The wackier the title the better it is.
For example, I based my speech on my experience of changing cities for college but I titled it Oreo Cheesecake. Remember to tie it in the speech somewhere, either in the start of the end of make a reference to it. I once did the speech on the Global Hunger Crisis and titled it Fortune Cookie. I didn’t mention it anywhere till the end where I said that not all of us are born with fortune cookies and thus we must try and do our bit and not waste food.
You can download my Icebreaker speech here.
A Quick Word on Humour
Humour is one of the easiest ways to connect with the audience and that is all you would want to do with the icebreaker. I would suggest try inculcating a little humour.
No, don’t get me wrong. The entire speech doesn’t have to have humour but a little somewhere will lighten the mood and make the audience root for you. It is difficult to add humour but not altogether impossible. I have attached some tips that helped me.’
Let it flow naturally
A fellow club member who has been a corporate comedian for almost seven ears once told me this. He said that forcing humour into a speech is the worst thing a speaker can bring onto himself.
Humour should stem from real-life experiences that have led to laughter and the more relatable they seem the more likely the chance of the audience laughing.
Since the Icebreaker is all about your story, there can be no better chance to use this tip. Eg. I used an instance if sibling squabble in my speech that managed to evoke laughter.
If it is difficult to come up with humour it is tougher to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in ineffective delivery. Ensure you use the tools of vocal variety and taking pauses at the right moments for the humour to sink in.
This will come with practice so make sure you rehearse it with different people before you deliver.
Prepping to Deliver Your Icebreaker Speech
Rewriting and Editing the Icebreaker
Once you’re done writing you may feel that quite a bit of your job is done but it has just about started. Most of the work is going to rewriting and editing.
A cousin who is also a creative writing tutor with school children once taught me a very simple thing. She said that the first draft isn’t even the most inaccurate depiction of what’s on your mind. It is merely you putting thoughts to words. The more I toastmaster, the stronger my belief in her words get.
What is the ideal speechwriting prep routine?
There never was and can never be an ideal speechwriting prep routine. Everyone has a different way of working and the only way to understand what works for you is by letting yourself write, fall and falter and then revise your methods. For now, I can tell you what works for me.
I usually build an ideation map that has the main points of what and how I want my speech to look like. I then do a first draft. This is someplace where I let my thoughts flow to words naturally without worrying about the word limit or the grammatical part.
Once I am through with this, I usually let the write up ferment for some time. Depending on when the speech is scheduled to be delivered and my college routine, this period is usually anything between a few hours to a few days.
Why is redrafting necessary?
Once you get back to the draft with fresh eyes you’d want to make multiple changes and that’s where the magic begins. You will feel the writing blossoming into a clearer and more accurate version of what you had in mind. The more drafts you give the better it is. For an Icebreaker, since it’s your first speech a couple drafts are okay.
The catch here is to not to keep mindlessly drafting and redrafting but also to run them by other people for their opinions. All good speeches are a culmination of writing that is a reflection not only of the views of the speaker but also that of reviews from mentors.
Here, the important point is to ensure that no mentor’s say is ultimate. Take their opinions but if you feel that you don’t wish to incorporate it in your write up, let it be.
Editing the Icebreaker
The most important part is editing. If you’re someone like me who loves writing this is usually an area of problem. Editing, one must understand is not only about cutting down on words and the length of the speeches.
It also refers to the reframing of sentences in a way that they are really impactful and also reconstruction of sentences to enable ease in the implementation of verbal stylistics.
Step 1 to Editing
If your write up is exceeding the word limit, the first step is to bring it under the word limit. You can do this by simply chopping off unnecessary words. Eg. “For the past one year” can just be “For the past year” etc.
Step 2 to Editing
Once you’re done with this and the write up is still not in the given word bracket, go back and begin cutting short sentences. A ten-word sentence can easily be cut down to a seven or maybe even a five.
Eg. “When I took the leadership test on the Toastmasters Portal, it ranked me an equal on both, the Affiliative and Altruistic styles” can be chopped off to “The Toastmasters leadership test determined both Affiliative and Altruistic styles of leadership for me”. A twenty-one-word sentence chopped off straight to a fourteen word one.
This is obviously something that will come with practice but a trick you must aim to master. If you’re unable to do it by yourself reach out to a writer friend or an editor one, your mentor or the person touted to be having the best language and writing skills at the club.
The fermentation philosophy also works here and always keep coming back to the write up for editing every few hours with a set of fresh eyes. Once you’re done rewriting, editing and rewriting confirm with your mentor and lock your script.
Take the Aid of Your Toastmaster Mentor
One of the best parts about being with Toastmasters is the Mentor Policy at Toastmasters. All members whether new or old, experienced Toastmasters or inexperienced ones are allocated mentors by the VP Ed of the club.
Your mentor is your go-to person for everything at Toastmasters and someone who will actually end up being your first and closest confidante over time.
The prep method changes from speaker to speaker and mentor to mentor and club to club. Usually, what I have experienced at my club especially with my mentors is a three step process that we follow to prep for the speech:
- The first step is working on the write-up. I tend to take at least a couple of drafts of a speech. The first one is usually completely my ideation and execution which I then share with my mentors and the following drafts are a compilation of their views on how to make it better and my understanding of it.
- Once the script is locked, we move on to the second stage that is audio and video recording of the speech. Here, I first usually send an audio recording of my speech to my mentors for them to understand and help me better the vocal variety, tonality and range which is then succeeded by a video recording to better the hand gestures and expressions and stage movements.
- Once this is through, we proceed to the final step of prepping which is practicing in front of the mirror and with your peers.
My mentors have often been very particular about two things. One that I practice at least nine to ten times before I get onstage and second that these practices are a culmination of me speaking in front of a mirror and in front of my peers.
At first glance, this may seem a little intensive and unneeded but believe me, it will only help. It will make you more confident and easy onstage.
Practicing with Your Peers
When you practice with your peers and see their reactions it will make you understand how to make your delivery more effective. All speakers tend to unconsciously bend towards a few delivery stylistics naturally.
For eg, some tend to be better at intonation and modulation probably by virtue of being voiceover artists or actors at maybe some point of time in school or college. Speakers who’ve had a stint as dancers tend to use non-verbal stylistics like those of expressions and smile and hand gestures more effectively.
This can sometimes distract the audience if any are used in excess. To avoid these mishaps on the last day, when you practice with your peers ask them to keep an eye out for this and help you modulate it to proportion.
Is practising at the venue is necessary?
Another thing that really worked in favour for me was practicing my Icebreaker with two other Toastmasters at the venue a fortnight before the meeting I was to speak in. This helped in two ways.
One, obviously because I was practicing with fellow Toastmasters I could get comprehensive feedback but most importantly, speaking at the venue fostered me with greater confidence since I could get a feel of what the Big Day would be like.
I know this may not always be possible, but a simple alternative to this can be reaching the venue a little early and using the time before the meeting to practice with another member and take their feedback. The idea is to get comfortable with the venue.
Delivering the Icebreaker
It is finally the Big Day. You’ve prepped enough and now you should just relax and let things unfold their way. It is very important to prep right, but on the final day it’s even more vital to ensure that you don’t doubt your prep.
To ease your nerves, mentioned below is a simple checklist that will help you in ensuring that you’re calm and composed when you take the stage.
Ensure that you are dressed comfortably but not too informal. A semi-formal outfit would surely work. The last thing you want is your outfit to distract you and the audience while speaking.
Ladies, that frilly dress maybe really pretty and can pass for as semi-formal too but if your venue is going to have too many fans it might lead to some wardrobe malfunction scares that you don’t want while speaking. Ensure that you keep these things in mind while dressing.
Dress in a pale pinks and blues and greens since science says they are calming and will do you good if you’re too nervous. If your nervousness is pulling you down, don on a yellow since it is an instant mood up lifter and will make you feel cheery. Again these are just suggestions and not mandatory at all.
This is of primary importance. It is going to be a long day and a tiring one too. Ensure that you have enough fuel to keep yourself going. Don’t have a heavy breakfast if you’re someone who gets nauseous out of nervousness. Have some fruits and light snacks and some juice perhaps.
Try and not consume caffeine since it will only worsen your anxiety (in my experience). If you feel like you need a boost, try green tea. It has the right amount of caffeine to wake you up but not enough you fuel your anxiety.
Reach the venue before time
Usually a normal Toastmasters meeting would require all role players on the agenda reach at least thirty minutes before the start of the meeting to ensure that the meeting begins on time.
Since it’s your first time onstage I would suggest that you reach the venue a little earlier and take in the atmosphere, and calm your nerves. Check the acoustics situation. A lot of venues have paltry acoustics due to the way they are constructed and hence practicing even a little of your speech will give you an idea of how to throw your voice.
This is important because it makes sure that a situation like this doesn’t reduce the impact of your speech.
I once did a speech in a room with paltry acoustics that had all fans running and to top it there was a heavy downpour outside which led to the rains also hampering the speech impact.
The only feedback that I got on that speech was to speak louder since people beyond the third row couldn’t hear me. Had I come in early and practiced this with someone not only would it have helped me with my confidence but also with my understanding of the bad acoustics of the room.
Therefore, it is better to figure these things out beforehand since if you realize it during the speech it would distract both the audience and you. If you are going to use a microphone and a podium the need for practicing is even greater since here too there are chances of malfunction.
The moment you had been dreading or awaiting is finally here. The TMoD has called you onstage and shook your hand and left. The audience is waiting patiently to hear you and all you can hear is your heartbeat racing.
I am listing below a few things for you to keep in mind before you begin and also while you’re speaking that I really wished someone had told me before I got speaking.
Breathe before you begin
Before you begin, take a moment to soak in the atmosphere and the energy of the room. Take in a few deep breaths tell yourself you got this, look into the eyes of the audience, smile and then begin.
Try to keep a positive body language
This means no folding of arms around the chest, no slumping of the back and drooping shoulders. Make sure your legs don’t jiggle. Strive to make controlled movements towards the audience with open arms and don’t forget to SMILE. Remember, Phyllis Diller’s words, “A smile is a curve that can set anything straight”. This will warm up the audience and also ease your nervousness as well.
Related Article: Body Language Guide to Public Speaking (The Do’s and Don’ts)
Keep a check on pace and tone
Nervousness usually translates in an unprecedented increase in pace and also a certain loudness both of which it is easy to fall prey to. Ensure that you are a little aware of these things while speaking. This will make sure that the overall impact of your speech is better and not marred by the nervousness.
Try and maintain eye contact
Another major hindrance that I have noticed most speakers face is that of maintaining eye contact. Most of us, out of our nervousness choose to evade eye contact and either look at the walls or blank spaces or anywhere but into the eyes of the audience.
If it’s your first time doing a speech this is completely understandable. I would suggest that to counter this you find your people in the audience. You can get your friends and family and scatter them in the audience and keep making eye contact with them letting everyone feel that you’re talking to them.
If you can for some reason not do this, try finding your people at the club. The ones you’re the most comfortable around and the ones whom you laugh and engage the most with. Then practice the same hack of making eye contact with them.
Related Article: Why Eye Contact & Facial Expressions Will Make or Break Your Speech
Remember, the main objective of the Icebreaker is to show your mentor and evaluator what delivery stylistics come naturally to you. This speech is to give them an idea of your strengths and weaknesses and how they can work on both. Therefore, be as natural as you can onstage and just be you.
It is normal to be in awe of a fellow speaker and want to emulate them but if that style of delivery is not natural to you then don’t.
There is always time later to learn from them and emulate their style or even better add it as an accessory to your own. Understand, this is your story and should only be said in your way for the impact to deepen.
Things to Know as You Receive Your First Icebreaker Evaluation
If this is your first speech at Toastmasters, it’s probably also going to be the first time you receive an evaluation. Here are some things to keep in mind as you receive your Icebreaker speech evaluation.
Understand that the Evaluator’s word is not the ultimate
One of the most enriching segments of a Toastmasters Meeting is the Evaluation segment where each speaker is allocated a dedicated Evaluator who evaluates the speech for him/her.
Remember that an evaluator is no God and feel free to only take whatever portions from the evaluation that you deem enriching enough for yourself. If you feel that there’s nothing, feel free to leave it out.
Ask for Feedback from Fellow Members
A lot of times the evaluators assigned are new members learning the ropes of the craft themselves and thus you might feel that you weren’t satisfied with the evaluation that came your way.
In such a scenario feel free to walk up to the senior members and ask for feedback. In fact one should do this regardless of whether they are satisfied with the speech evaluation or not.
Cherish your First Time with Toastmasters
The icebreaker is going to be one of the many of your firsts at Toastmasters and for some of you, might also be your first time speaking in front of an audience.
Cherish it, for all firsts are always special in some way or the other and they never come back. Remember to enjoy the process, the writing, the prepping and the delivery.
Video Record your Speech
If you are comfortable, ask someone to record the speech for you. It will help you later understand things in a much better way especially the criticism but will most importantly serve as a beautiful memory to look back on a few years down the line.
Sample Icebreaker Speeches
Over the years I have been fortunate to meet several amazing speakers. It gives me immense pleasure to share some of their very first speeches (the Icebreaker). Are these speeches perfect and follow every guide stated in this blog? Of course, not. And that’s not the point.
The point is to take inspiration from these speeches to help better draft your own Icebreaker. You can download them as PDF versions here:
As we keep getting more writers who have been through Icebreakers, we will keep adding more sample speeches for you to take inspiration from!
Final Words: Smile Through Your Mistakes
If you goofed up onstage it is fine, just smile through it and don’t be too harsh on yourself. It was your first time, you will make many such mistakes at Toastmasters and always remember that Toastmasters is a platform that aims to encourage you to make mistakes aplenty so that you learn the right way.
I still remember when I was giving my Icebreaker I sort of forgot something in the first thirty seconds itself. I masked it really well and no one in the audience could gauge it but my evaluator, not even my mentor. Somehow I just stuck to it and felt really wretched about it.
Now when I look back the only regret that I have is that I didn’t spend those minutes enjoying my time onstage but delved in the misery of a trivial mistake.
My only tip to you, it is OKAY to falter and stutter. The more graceful and human you are about this the more forgiving the audience. What is not okay is to delve in it and ruin your mood and not have fun. That is the only regret I have in my time with my club.
This is the beginning of a new journey that is going to be full of ups and downs and learnings and mistakes and just like Rumi rightly said, “Trust the magic of new beginnings”. It is going to be a roller coaster ride, one that you’re going to love, so brace yourselves and Welcome to the Toastmaster Family.