Break through your fear of public speaking

Some of you may know that I am a big fan of Toastmasters and regularly visit a central London club. I highly recommend it for increasing confidence in public speaking, as well as gaining personal confidence and making some great new friends and contacts.

Last week I did my first speech – The Icebreaker.

It’s good title for the first Toastmaster speech and one that every new Toastie probably dreads. I know I’d been thinking about doing mine for a month or two, before finally pushing myself out of my comfort zone and onto the floor at this week’s meeting.

The Icebreaker is your chance to tell your fellow club members a little about yourself and practice your speaking skills (from 4 to 6 minutes). You will also get positive and constructive feedback on the skills you already have, and those you need to work on a little. One of the major things I love about Covent Garden Toastmasters is the incredibly supportive environment. Everyone wants you to do well and with a philosophy of commend, recommend, commend, you can’t go wrong.

Here’s what the official Toastmasters manual has to say about the Icebreaker:

For your first speech project, you will introduce yourself to your fellow club members and give them some information about your background, interests, and ambitions. Practice giving your speech to friends or family members, and strive to make eye contact with some of your audience. You may use notes during your speech if you wish. Read the entire project before preparing your talk.

 • “Break the ice” – To begin speaking before an audience by introducing yourself to fellow Club members.
 Begin to understand what strengths you already have, and areas that require particular emphasis in your speaking development.
 Time: Four to six minutes.

For my own Icebreaker, I decided to share some brief details about my background (long lists of ‘I did this’ and ‘I studied that’ can get a little boring, I feel) together with a memorable moment from my past. Thanks to help from my mentor, plus a few tips gleaned from a couple of great books, I remembered to warm up my voice beforehand, breathe (in as well as out) and have some strong coffee to keep me awake (It was 7am!).

I’m happy to say it all went even better than I imagined and I didn’t have to forage in my pocket for notes. The feedback I received was very encouraging and gave me great advice for my future speeches, one of which was to ensure I finish with a strong and relevant ending.

Here are a few of my own tips for those of you about to break the ice:

1.    Prepare your beginning and your ending first. They need to be strong to engage your audience, and leave them wanting more at the end.

2.    Make sure your story has a structure. Avoid taking your audience up the garden path – and leaving them there!

3.    Don’t try to memorise every word. It’s your story, so no one will know if you bend it like Beckham and ad lib here and there. Go with the flow.

4.    Try to vary you pitch and tone. Use pauses for emphasis. Pausing also gives you time to breathe and gather your thoughts. It also stops you from panicking. It certainly helped me!

5.    Engage your audience through eye contact. People love to be acknowledged. Obviously avoid headless chicken and 360-degree head movements or mad stares. Just pick a few people across the room and hold their gaze for a few seconds.

6.    Imagine you are speaking to just a few of your friends.

7.    Avoid hand-clasping in front of you, or windmill arms. It can be distracting for the audience. Keep your hands loosely by your sides and use them for emphasis or illustration only.

Please write in and let us know your own experience of Toastmasters, or if you’ve overcome the fear of public speaking! We’d love to hear from you.