Toastmasters – the dreaded Icebreaker

I joined Toastmasters several months ago as a way to improve my speaking skills for my job. That job is another story entirely unto itself. I have known Toastmasters exists for as long as I can remember. In the last few years, an old friend began lauding on Facebook how positive her experiences were with a group in Anchorage, Alaska.

Toastmasters is an international membership organization that guides individuals in gaining or improving communication and leadership skills. At it’s most basic level, it is a supportive, structured way to become a better public speaker whether it be for formal presentations or in a social context.There are quite a few groups in my city and having attended two different groups, I am sure that each one has its own personality. I easily decided on my group, the Saturday A.M. Toastmasters, because their usual meeting location is the city airport. It is primarily a light aircraft (small Cessnas, Beechcraft, Pipers) airport and I am fascinated by these planes.

The format of the meeting is timed and members assume roles that include among others a Presiding Officer, who hosts or leads the meeting, a Timer, who gives signals to speakers using a flag or light to keep them aware of how long they have spoken, Evaluators, who kindly review speeches giving positive feedback and comments on ‘room for improvement’. This kind of setting could easily be stuffy and uptight. Although my group always starts on time and follows an ordered meeting, it is relaxed and congenial and members always gather afterward for lunch and socializing.

The nerve-wracking aspect of the meeting for me it Table Topics. Each week a theme is selected as well as a word of the day. The Table Topics Master selects questions that fit the theme and after stating the question selects a member to stand and give an impromptu one to two minute talk on the topic. Preparation is the main source of stress for me when it comes to public speaking. I need to think over what I want to say before speaking off the cuff. My mind goes blank when asked to immediately speak before a group without prior notice. This reflects a deeper concern with feeling that my presentation will be inadequate or unimpressive.

The first level in Toastmasters is the Competent Communicator. There are ten projects to prepare and present that range from an Icebreaker to get comfortable with presentation and introduce oneself to working on format, getting to the point, vocal variety, persuasion, and other basic approaches to public speaking.

My Icebreaker is set for tomorrow morning. Originally it was scheduled for last week and I cancelled. I could say that what is going on with work distracted me, but in reality I came up with writer’s block on the closing lines. The speech is only four to six minutes long, which in many ways makes it much harder because it is so necessary to be concise. My title is I Did Not Set Out to Find an Alaska Man. It seemed an easy way to encompass the entirety of my adult life in a brief and somewhat entertaining way. It begins with me recounting that I was not thinking about finding an Alaska man during my youth when I dreamed of ways to get away from the Southern States to somewhere in the Mountain West. Nor was I setting out to find an Alaska man throughout the years I lived there. I briefly negate stereotypical misconceptions (or more likely create my own stereotype) about Alaska men. Finally, I was not looking for an Alaska man when I decided to move away from the state, left my full-time professional employment and took one last seasonal job at a lodge in the foothills of the Alaska Range, where I met my Alaska man.

Next topic: My Toastmasters Icebreaker: I Did Not Set Out to Find an Alaska Man

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