The note just came in your inbox. You will be giving your first speech next week. Fear grips you as you contemplate the situation. You haven’t given a speech since high school and now you will be facing a live audience that wants to know who you are and what you are all about. You start questioning yourself… Why did I sign up for this? Then the second guessing starts… What if I forget my thoughts?… What if they don’t like me? Will I die?
I’ve been in Toastmasters for over 15 years and I’ve seen hundreds of speeches, many of them from first time speakers. While the fear level is high, I can honestly tell you this… No one ever died and everyone survived. Many people have seen a major transformation in their lives by simply taking the first step, and giving an icebreaker speech.
So what are the secrets to surviving your first speech?
Here are seven things you can do that will help you overcome your fear and take the tiger by the tail.
1. Write an Introduction. When you are speaking for the first time, your audience wants to get to know you better. While you can include an extensive history of yourself in your speech, you can really introduce yourself to everyone by providing a written introduction to the Toastmaster or meeting leader. This will give the audience a picture of you and your background before you even begin speaking. Not only is this helpful, but it will make your whole presentation more professional and allow you to make your speech more engaging than just a laundry list of facts.
2. Take an Inventory. Take a sheet of paper and write down exciting and life changing events that have happened in your life. List out the dates, times, and places. Write down unusual things that have happened. List accomplishments, such as job advancements, educational achievements, and any winning moments. List out friends and family and how they have impacted your life.
3. Highlight the Important. Take your inventory list and highlight the things that stand out. Then ask yourself… Does it make sense to create a chronological list or highlight one or more major items and focus on those? Does your life revolve around a major event or an overarching theme? Take a step back and look at your list. Look at your keywords. You’ll soon see a pattern that you can work from.
4. Create a Keyword Outline. Once you have your keywords listed, create an outline. If you have decided to do it in chronological order, start at the beginning. If it is event based, start by outlining the individual events and situations. Since your speech has a short time limit (6 minutes in Toastmasters), try not to have more than 3 major events or 6 places on your timeline.
5. Capture the Stories. Once you have your keywords or events on your outline, write down in detail the stories surrounding the different events. Use a lot of description and involve all the major senses, (sight, sound, touch etc)
6. Create a Working Outline. On one sheet of paper, create a final outline of your speech. Start with your opening. Make it attention grabbing with a story, quotation, or impact statement. Then create the body section. Take memory jogging ideas or sentences from your stories that you created above and list them on the outline. Finish up with your close. Make an impactful statement or tie in an encompassing story. Summarize key points. Draw people in. If appropriate, ask your audience to take action. Remember that your close is what your audience is most likely to remember about you.
7. Practice Your Speech. Take your one sheet outline, set a timer for 6 minutes, and practice your speech out loud. This usually works best in a quiet place. For the first few times, have your outline in front of you. As you practice your speech, make notes of changes and ideas that you want to incorporate on the sideline of your outline. Practice your entire speech a few times, and watch your time. Do you need to cut or add material?
As you fine tune your speech, use a pencil or highlighter to mark emphasis areas. Add vocal variety or gestures to make your point. When your speech is flowing well, do one final run through and make sure your completed time is within your time boundaries (4-6 minutes for a Toastmaster’s icebreaker). Clean up your outline and you should be ready to go. As an added bonus, try doing a run through without using your notes.
At this point your confidence level should be higher. I suggest doing a run through a short while before giving the actual speech. Take your notes with you and place them on the lectern for reference if needed. If you practiced your speech a few times and used stories, you may find that you make it through your first speech without notes.
Question: Have you given an icebreaker speech before? How did it go?