Article Category: Speechwriting

Toastmasters Speech 1: The Ice Breaker


Toastmasters Speech 1: The Ice BreakerIce breaker (or Icebreaker) is a term which describes an activity which reduces tension and anxiety in a group.

Thus, it is fitting that the first Toastmaster speech project is titled The Ice Breaker.

This article of the Toastmasters Speech Series examines the primary goals of this project, provides tips and techniques, and links to numerous sample speeches.

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Why is This Speech Important?

The Ice Breaker speech has three aims:

  1. Introduce yourself.
    Your ice breaker speech topic is you – something about your life, your job, your hobbies, your unique interests, your family, or any combination of these. You are an absolute authority on this topic, and everyone in the audience will learn something about you.
  2. Begin to conquer the fear of speaking in front of a group.
    It is nervewracking when speaking in front of a new group. If you feel this nervousness, remember that a Toastmaster audience is always supportive and understanding. Nobody is grading you, and nobody will mind if you stumble through 99 “Um”s and “Ah”s. If you get up, say something, and sit down, you have succeeded in this project.
  3. Provide a “base line” of your current strengths and weaknesses.
    Some new members have no public speaking experience, while others have years of presentations behind them. No matter where you fit into this spectrum, your goal is to improve from your starting point. This first speech helps club members gauge your current strengths so that they can make specific recommendations to help you improve.

Tips and Techniques

The Competent Communicator manual has a wealth of helpful advice. You can download a PDF version of the first project from the Toastmasters International website.

Here are a few other things which may help you:

Nobody expects you to be a world-class orator. Just do your best.

  • Ask for Help
    If you have a mentor, don’t hesitate to ask them for help. If you don’t, feel free to ask any other club member. Perhaps they can share what they spoke about for their Icebreaker. Perhaps they can help you select a topic. Perhaps you can practice it privately before the meeting. All other members have gone through the Ice Breaker before, and can provide words of encouragement.
  • Practice Helps
    You don’t need to practice the speech 35 times, and you don’t need to have it memorized. However, your nervousness will be reduced considerably if you give it a couple of practice runs out loud (even if your only audience is you).
  • Timing
    The recommended time for the Ice Breaker speech is four to six minutes. It may seem like a long time, but in later projects, you’ll start wishing you had much more time to deliver your message. Don’t worry too much about going under or over time. Just aim for somewhere in that range.
  • Notes
    There are no rules on the use of notes. If you need notes, use them. If you don’t need notes, don’t. Either way, don’t worry about it. It’s okay if you read your ice breaker from a script (just try to look up once in a while), if you refer to cue cards, or if you talk without notes.
  • Don’t Expect to be Winston Churchill
    This is your first challenge. Nobody expects you to be a world-class orator. Just do your best. Once you have established your “base line”, then you can aim to raise your skill level in future projects.
  • Speak Up and Slow Down
    Two common effects of nervousness are mumbling words and racing through the speech. Try to avoid these, but don’t worry if you can’t help it.
  • Humour Reduces Your Nervousness
    If you are comfortable incorporating humour into your ice breaker, go for it. The laughs from the audience will reduce your nervousness. An easy way to do this is to make a self-depracating joke at the start. (If nobody laughs, don’t worry about that either… it’s something to work on later.)
  • Apologizing
    You may feel an urge to apologize to your audience (e.g. for uttering too many “Um”s, for losing your place, etc.). There is no need to do so! Often, the audience doesn’t notice the little glitches, and it is much better for you to ignore them too.

Topic Ideas for Your Ice Breaker Speech

Although your broad topic is yourself, there are numerous angles to take, and several ways to organize your speech.

Don’t worry too much about the organization of the speech; later speech projects (especially #2 and #3) encourage you to focus more on that. However, having said that, one of these ideas may help you overcome writer’s block.

 

Idea #1: Chronological

For many people, a series of chronological snapshots of their life is the easiest to write and deliver.

Example: Ravi Singal takes this approach with his Ice Breaker: Why Me? Try Me!

Example: Oleg Kagan starts at birth in his Ice Breaker speech.

Idea #2: Topical

Discuss a series of elements of your life to provide a “sampling” of your life. For example, you could open up by talking about your family, then discuss your career, and conclude with your hobbies.

Example: Bob Cain addresses his love of travel, then photography, and then his career/education in his Ice Breaker speech. (video)

Idea #3: Common Thread

Select a common thread that runs through your life, and share brief stories where this common element appears. It might be a signature phrase, a philosophy that guides you, or even something obscure like peanut butter. (i.e. imagine stories through your life where peanut butter played a role)

My own Ice Breaker speech followed this general structure. It was titled “Andrew of All Trades – Master of None” and touched on several examples where I have breadth, but not depth of knowledge.

Example: Steph Corwin provides a great example with her Ice Breaker titled Swimming Through Life.

Idea #4: One Key Event

Focus on one critical event which took your life in a completely different direction.

Example: Tanya Huang talks about moving continents in Made in Taiwan, Calibrated in Canada.

Idea #5: How I Got Here…

A combination of #1 and #4, explain the series of decisions or events that brought you “here”, where “here” might be the place you currently live, the job you currently have, the life you lead, or the decision to join Toastmasters.

Example: Tracy Buxton does this wonderfully in her Ice Breaker titled I used to be June Cleaver, but I’m not sure who I am now.

Example: Jill Williamson also demonstrates this approach in the aptly titled How I Came To Be Here. (video)

More Examples of The Ice Breaker

Here are a few more sample written and video speeches which may provide inspiration for you.

Written Speech Examples

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Video Speech Examples

Next in the Toastmasters Speech Series

The next article in this series examines Speech 2: Organize Your Speech.

This is one of a number of articles related to Toastmasters featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon31 Comments

  1. CK says:

    Humor in ice-breakers is rare as speakers are anxious to get off the mark. And the fear, what if humor bombs ?

    However, some of the most memorable ice-breakers I have watched had a streak of self deprecating humor in them.

    Here are some samplers:
    Title of an ice-breaker : “Past imperfect.Present tense”.

    Yet another speaker : “My attitude towards life is in my blood. B(e) Positive !

    There was this girl Anisha Rasquinha who said ” Man of my dreams ? Nothing grand. I don’t expect him to come on a white horse. Just a BMW will do !”
    I still remember these speeches simply because of the subtle humor.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Good point, CK.

      Toastmasters who approach their Icebreaker speech with significant fears are unlikely to attempt humor for fear it will not register.

      I like your examples of humorous speech titles. Since the title is said by someone else, there’s no fear of the humor bombing. If the audience doesn’t laugh, no problem. If they do laugh, then it is a great way to start your first speech… with the whole audience smiling already!

      I think I was into my 3rd speech before I made anyone laugh… and even then it was accidental. More on that in a future article.

  2. CK says:

    My personal favourite of a humorous speech opener in an ice breaker goes like this

    ” I feel the best way to break ice is to pour whisky over it. However, I will attempt a less exciting way for about six minutes !”

    He had the audience in splits right from the word go and needless to add we tried his method of ice breaking after the meeting !

  3. Sailesh says:

    Hi, I am VP-PR at Lagoon Toastmasters in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
    Your resources are very useful for the aspiring Toastmaster. I will be pointing fellow members to your site regularly.
    Keep up the good work!

    Regards, Sailesh.
    Discover, Develop, Distinguish.

    http://www.lagoontoastmasters.com

  4. SUSAN says:

    Aha! So you, Andrew, are the author of all the icebreaker tips! Thanks for the help and encouragement. I think I’ll get a bit more sleep than I thought I would when I first became aware of the extent of my obligation. After sweating alot, I’ll do fine (and may live to tell about it).

    Thanks.

    Sue

  5. jordan hardy says:

    this was very helpful

  6. jchstixx says:

    Hi. I would just like to say that all these articles and videos have helped me. Wish me luck in my icebreaker!!!!!

  7. Peter Evans says:

    Thanks for the great tips and examples! Had only 2 days to put my ice breaker together and your information was invaluable. I even won best speaker :-)

  8. Alex Chan says:

    Hello Andrew,
    Great description, thank you. We’ve added a link to your page in one of our posts to help out future members get a better sense of this.
    Regards,
    Alex Chan
    St-Lawrence Toastmasters (Montreal, Canada)

  9. Sri says:

    Hello, this is Monkey Sri. Thanks for linking to my blog! I’ve changed the URL, so you may want to update your link: http://thebioimp.blogspot.com/2008/06/words-have-power.html
    Thanks!

  10. Michael says:

    Excellent idea to share these tips and samples! I hope you get a chance to finish the series.
    It prodded me to post my own Ice Breaker (another example of “Common Thread”), along with other member contributions, on our club site:
    http://www.chamberclub540.com/sharables.htm

  11. santosh says:

    Dear Sir ,

    I used this site extensively for preparing my first speech for ToastMasters ,which I am going to deliver today .

    Thanks a ton for nice and very useful features on this site.

    Please keep up this work.

    Here is my first speech – http://hr-universe.blogspot.com/2009/09/toastmaster-speech-1-ice-breaker.html

    Regards
    Santosh

  12. I agree totally. The first few minutes in any speech are crucial. If you only just fumble your way through, the rest of your speech will not be particularly inspiring. Getting the levels of anxiety down at the beginning is key to getting a good start, and using an icebreaker to engage the audience helps them, and you. Just knowing you are an expert (“the” expert) is not enough to allay our fears, sadly. And reasoning (“I know my subject…they came here to listen to me,” etc) just doesn’t reduce our stress levels!

  13. Sheeba says:

    Hi, I love your perspective on ice-breaker speeches. It is great to hear ice-breaker speeches which give us more information on the speaker, his experiences, interests and events that moulded his personality to give it its present shape.

  14. Kevin Kane says:

    This article helped me deliver my “Public Speaking Triumph and Disaster Toastmasters Ice Breaker:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55CPJ7rUd8U
    Good luck to everyone!

  15. Jess123 says:

    Your articles are very helpful. But when I see those ice-breakers examples, I feel like the ice-breaker I have prepared is quite pale in comparison. I also think it’s hard to incorporate humour in it. This is asking a lot for a first speech.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      The examples are just that: examples. It doesn’t matter if your speech is different. Everyone will have a different ice breaker speech, and that’s fine.

  16. Kathleen says:

    Can I bring props? It’s only my second meeting and I jumped in this both feet to do the ice breaker. A big part of who I am is a woodturner and would like to bring a 2 or 3 small pieces to have on the table to showcase what I do and answer questions.. Would that be appropriate?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      There’s no rule which says that you cannot bring props. If your Ice Breaker speech heavily focuses on your woodturning pursuits, then it may add value to bring in examples of this work. My advice for you would be to make sure that the speech is about yourself (where woodturning is one of your hobbies or passions) and avoid making the speech _about_ the woodturning pieces themselves (i.e. don’t make the speech about “how to turn Christmas tree ornaments”). You can certainly devote future speeches to focus on woodturning skills/examples, but the first speech should be about yourself. Make sense?

      Similarly, there’s no rule against Q&A for an Ice Breaker speech, however I would advise you not to design your speech in this way… this time. While handling a Q&A is an important skill for a complete speaker, it can also be a very time-consuming component in a presentation. It would be easy to speak for 2 minutes and take questions for 4 minutes, but this would not allow you to meet the objectives for this first TM project. Try filling your available time with your speech this time. Near your speech conclusion, you might say something like “If anyone has questions about the wood pieces I showed, I’d love to talk about it after the meeting with you.” Again, future speech projects can be designed with an included Q&A in mind, but I think you will gain the most value from “pure” speaking for the first speech.

  17. Sarah Lowe says:

    I have just joined toastmasters and am not very good at speeches. Your information has helped me A LOT.
    thanx!

  18. Patsy says:

    I’ll be starting my Icebreaker session very soon. And I’m glad I found your blog! Thank you. All the contents here are very useful.

  19. My icebreaker theme was ‘Challenge and Response’ – My life has been a series of challenges and responses. Please visit http://www.lagoontoastmasters.com for the complete script of my icebreaker speech which had won best speaker award

  20. Alice says:

    Thanks for the super helpful articles on each speech. Definitely helped me with my first speech entitled, “Becoming a Technical Evangelist” http://bit.ly/aliceTMicebreaker

  21. ali says:

    very nice post. Quite helpful for a me as I’ve to deliver an ice breaking speech in a couple of days. Thanks for sharing

  22. Linda says:

    I’m wondering if there’s any chance I could access those video or article line which be shown as good example …really eager to see how did they perform this role…as I still hesitate to do my first ice break presentation…

  23. Carol says:

    I went to my first toastmasters meeting last night. I’m curious about the contents of the basic books that are used and was pleasantly surprised to find your link.

  24. Thanks so much Andrew for these tips, very helpful.

    I recorded my experience of doing my Icebreaker and my speech transcript here (http://bit.ly/TQ8I5f), and have linked to this post as it’s so useful.

  25. Jush says:

    This site will really help my icebreaker coz its my firsttime to deliver a speech for our oral and communication subject! Thank you!

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  27. I’d like to find out more? I’d love to find out some additional information.

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When you join a Toastmaster club, the first speech you do is an Ice Breaker. At our meeting last night we… http://t.co/afb4u04B6q

Links icon29 Blog Links

 

Gundy Gabbers Toastmasters Blog — Nov 16th, 2009

 

Secundum Artem - Farnham Speakers — May 26th, 2011

 

Guildford Speakers | Becky Ladley — Sep 15th, 2012