Public speaking skills can be acquired. All of us have the potential to live, relate and connect with each other better through public communication and leadership. Speaking life shares the experiences of a toastmaster who reached the finals of the District 80 Table-Topics contest in May 2007. Everyday is a day that we can become better communicators.

How to prepare for your very first speech: "The Ice-Breaker"

How many of you toastmasters can remember how you fared for your very first speech, "The Ice-Breaker"?

Were you feeling nervous, excited and panicky all at the same time?

If you are not a toastmaster but will be doing a public presentation or a speech in front of an audience, are you feeling the same way? :-)

How to break ice without breaking your fingers
The toastmasters program starts off all budding public speakers with project 1, aptly named "the Ice-Breaker"! Some of you may be wondering, are you expected to do a demonstration of karate technique to break down a big chunk of ice right in front of an audience? No! It's nothing like that... Breaking the ice refers to breaking the barrier between letting people know more about you so as to develop a connection with them. When you go to a party and you don't know that many people there, how do you break the ice or get to know new people? You have to start by talking to them and sharing with them WHO YOU ARE.

That is the crux of the ice-breaker project. You need to share with the audience who you are to them in 4 to 6 minutes plus 30 seconds before you run out of time!

4 minutes!!! That seems like an eternity, what am I going to say, what if the audience finds it boring, what if I freeze like an ice-block?

Those are all valid questions and as a new speaker taking on your first project, let me break it down for you in a simple 3 step approach to preparing your very first speech.

1) Find a topic or theme
The objective of the ice-breaker is to introduce new toastmasters to members of their club and also to find that speaking ability that we may already have. It allows us to take the first concrete step in making speeches and lays the foundation for public speaking going forward.

You first need to identify your topic or theme. The basic communication and leadership manual helpfully suggests that since project 1 is about you, you can talk about your hobbies, your job, your studies, your family, your favourite stuff, your hated stuff etc. What this means is that you already have a wealth of material to choose for your topic.

The trick is to be SELECTIVE and just pick 3-4 main points or areas you want to speak about. The common strategy taken by many novice speakers is to try to cover as much ground as possible in that 4 to 6 minutes. That tends to leave the audience lost as too many details covering too many areas are given.

How do you squeeze your 20 or 60 years of life into 6 minutes. Impossible! What is possible is to CHOOSE those 3-4 main areas e.g. (i) childhood (ii) adulthood (iii) present time. If you want to talk about your job or career, perhaps you can break it down into (i) how you got your job, (ii) what do you do in your job (iii) why you like/hate your job.

2) Write out your speech BUT don't MEMORISE it!
Using the standard speech structure, start with an OPENING, BODY (3 to 5 main points) and CONCLUSION. As this is your first speech, don't worry if your OPENING is not as impactful or attention grabbing. You will learn more techniques as you go along. You can start by telling the audience what you are going to tell them, i.e. give them an outline of your speech. This is a simple but effective way of organising your speech.

Write out your speech as this will give you some confidence that you have sufficient words and materials to last the 4 to 6 minutes! This is also a good way for you to rehearse the speech IN YOUR MIND because when you write it down you basically articulate your thoughts clearly.

My suggestion to speakers is NOT TO MEMORISE THEIR SPEECH. Why?

Memorising makes your speech less natural and also puts yourself under a great deal of pressure. If you forget words, sentences or entire paragraphs, your speech tends to fall apart because you will feel very panicky and fearful. You are allowed to have your speech in front of you for your first project. I would recommend have an outline in point form as a guide rather than the complete speech in hand as an outline also serves to jog your memory about what you want to say.

Another reason why I tend to discourage people from memorising their speech is that when you just deliver your speech using an outline (but having written it out in full as part of your preparations), your mind will take over and you will find your natural style in delivering the content that is unstilted, refreshing and naturally YOU. This style is all yours and unique to yourself. By having an outline to guide you, you will train yourself to express the content in your own words. That is very powerful because being a effective public speaker doesn't mean that you must have flawless grammar and pronunication. All these are important, but I have heard speakers who spoke from their heart and even through their language skills were passable at best, their message mersmerised me and touched my heart.

3) Practice your speech
If you are shy to practice in front of a live audience. Use a mirror or better still, tape yourself using your MP3 recorder. Practising reduces the anxiety and makes you more confident about your content and what you want to say. It also allows you to iron out kinks in pronuniciation and delivery. You determine how many times you would like to practice. There is no hard and fast rule about this.

Above all, remember that the ice-breaker is for your club members to know you. So do add in some fun facts about you to allow your club members to bond better with you.

I wish you all the best in your very first speech.

Speak well, live well.