AV's Blog

Toastmasters Ice Breaker Speech Experience

July 20, 2019

The ice breaker speech is the first speech a new Toastmaster member ever does in his/her tenure as a member of Toastmasters. It is a four- to six-minute speech that aims “to introduce yourself to the club and learn the basic structure of a public speech”.

This was actually my second time to do an ice breaker speech. I did the first one when I briefly participated Toastmaters a few years back. I luckily still have a copy of that speech saved on Dropbox so I can refer to it again. But of course, the one I just did was actually a lot different from the one I’ve done before. I did reuse the joke or my introduction.

One big difference between my current Toastmaster experience and the previous one is the availability of online materials for members to help them prepare for their speeches. I’m glad that Toastmasters have updated their system. Also, there’s a more organized system for evaluation.

Below is a transcript of my last ice breaker speech. It’s not exact words I said. I only memorized the outline for the speech, and tried to remember points under each main topic that I need to mention. This transcript was long. I used a tool that predicts the amount of time I will be delivering the speech and I found it would take me more than six minutes. During the actual speech, my time was 6 minutes, 16 (or so) seconds, so it was ok. But I did try to hurry up and skipped a few details found in last part of this transcript.


Constant Change Means Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Thank you, Mister Toastmaster for the introduction! Good afternoon, fellow members and guests!

Do you know how much a typical elephant weigh? It’s more than enough to break the ice!

That’s actually the same joke I used in my ice breaker speech when I briefly attended Toastmasters a few years back.

I was a chemist at the Texas Dept of State Health Services. I can’t remember if the audience laughed but I can remember how nervous I was.

Anyway, enough about corny jokes! I’m Alona Varshal and I work as a member of the Cloud Operations team under Watson IoT here at IBM.

As I’ve mentioned, I attended Toastmasters back then. It was just a few months, but I think attending Toastmasters made me confident in my interactions with people.

It energized me and gave me confidence in job interviews such that I was able to get my next job as a chemist for a chemical manufacturing company just outside of Austin, which paid substantially more than the job at the state.

I’d say if not for the good things that I experienced back then attending Toastmasters, I probably won’t be here in front of you today, even if my boss required me to go to Toastmasters.

So now that you know that I used to be a chemist, it now should be obvious to you that I’m a career-changer.

Changing careers is just one of the many transitions I’ve gone through in my life. Each is always about how willing I am to get out of my comfort zone. It also shows how I’m still learning about myself and my capabilities.

One chapter I’d like to talk about is my moving from the Philippines to the US to go to grad school in chemistry. I went to Texas A&M in College Station, and that was the first time I really got to live on my own. Back in the Philippines, I was living with my parents during college because it was cheaper. This is really typical of Asian families. But moving to the US by myself was a complete change because I didn’t have someone who would do my laundry and cook meals for me. However, I loved the independence and that I can do things on my own. In the process, I got to learn not only chemistry, but also how to live and deal with people, though I wouldn’t say they were all successful. As someone who was drawn to hard science, I’m one of those who didn’t really focus much in developing my social skills. I didn’t think it was very important and I really focused more on studying.

Another transition in my life that I want to talk about is that I got married to someone who is based in Austin. Dating and marriage, taught me to be less introvert. It was really out of my comfort zone meeting the family of my then boyfriend who’s now my husband. I can’t believe how I was able to survive that phase but I was fortunate to meet my husband and his family who were very welcoming to me.

When I moved to Austin, it was actually because I got hired as a postdoc at the UT Austin. As a postdoc, I got to do research on chemistry and pattern recognition. I also got to teach undergraduates, so that was fun. Since then, I went on to become a chemist for the state, and then the chemical manufacturing company in Burnet, TX.

After a few years as a chemist, I still didn’t think that’s what I should be doing. Having very few options for chemists in the Austin area, I tried exploring other areas. After doing a thorough evaluation of my interests, personality, and previous work I’ve done at UT, I ended up looking into data science. While studying to enter this field, I found out I liked coding, which made me consider going to a coding bootcamp.

That is third transition in my life that I want to talk about. It’s my career change from being a chemist to a software developer. Looking back, my success really depended on my ability to connect with other people, and not only to what I have learned in coding. One of the many people I met while attending conferences and meetups was the one who referred me to the return to work internship here at IBM.

I see myself as a person who continues to explore more about what I can do. I am thankful that I can still do it at this stage. I think my life is all about changes and my ability to successfully transition truly just depends on getting out of my comfort zone. I just need to be positive and not to fret about anything that happens because I now see events as just avenues for me to learn more about myself.

The main point is that nothing happens if I don’t step out of my comfort zone. So, I encourage you all to do the same. Believe me, it’s worth it!


How I prepared 🏄🏽‍♀️

I’m a procrastinator. So, I actually started preparing three days before. (But then this may be relative and say that’s really not procrastinating since it’s only the ice breaker speech). The reason for my procrastination, looking back, I think is that I didn’t really want to do it. I dread talking in front of people. But I decided to volunteer to speak for the next meeting to force myself to do it.

As I’ve mentioned, I looked back at my previous ice breaker speech and used the introduction. And most importantly, I used the materials provided by Toastmasters. There is a worksheet one can use to help in preparation and I think that really helped.

During the short time I had to prepare, I came across a great material on O’Reilly, which is the learning path on “Improving Your Presentation Skills”. Just watching the first few videos of this learning path gave me great pointers during my preparation. I don’t know what it is, I also happen to came across (again) an old TED talk by Amy Cudy on the power pose. This one helped me to less my nervousness. For some reason, I had the link of this TED talk posted to myself on my work Slack. I could say the stars were aligned that week for me to do my speech (just as stars were aligned for the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago 🌟).

But during the process, I had to rehash my speech a few times such that I have a clear outline composed on an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The O’Reilly material I mentioned above helped me to consider a “purpose and action” for the speech. For me, it would be “to get out of your comfort zone to effect change”. This helped me to focus and only talk about this purpose and nothing else. Otherwise, the talk will be too long and less organized.

How I did 🏆

In the end, I was surprised because I got a standing ovation. I’ve never had one before. So at the end of the meeting, I got my ice breaker medal and the best speech medal but that’s because I was the only speaker that day! 😜

I really appreciated the evaluation that I received, which is that I have to consider vocal variety and specific gestures, maintain more eye contact, and to not mention about being nervous. The challege for me was to set goals (Toastmasters) and to consider taking leadership roles.