Laugh at your fear of Public Speaking ~ Give an Icebreaker Speech!

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1 Laugh at your fear of Public Speaking ~ Give an Icebreaker Speech! JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D Technical writer-editor Army Corps of Engineers New York District Sonia Satra Soap Opera Actress Award-winning Speaker

2 Laugh at your fear of public speaking ~ give an Icebreaker Speech! By JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D. "Jerry Seinfeld, comedian and actor, once said that people at a funeral would rather be in the casket then delivering the eulogy," said Sonia Satra, an actress herself and Professional Speaker and a representative with Toastmasters International. This was no joke ~ It's true that many people fear public speaking more than dying. Recently Satra and I, a technical writer-editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, held a workshop for Army Corps personnel on how to write and present an icebreaker speech. An icebreaker speech can be a good way to get used to public speaking and reduce fear as well as discover what speaking skills you have and where you need to improve. The speech is typically 2-6 minutes long and a way to introduce your self to a group of people and break the ice. In fact, this speech is the first exercise given at Toastmasters International club meetings. Toastmasters is a nonprofit educational organization whose clubs instruct people on how to improve their communication and leadership skills. The workshop combines the technical components of writing an icebreaker speech with acting techniques that can be used to effectively deliver the speech. There are fundamental skills for both acting and speaking that can provide structure, purpose and focus to your speech, said Satra. This workshop is useful for anyone who finds themselves in a wide variety of public speaking situations, such as engineers and scientists that work for the Army Corps, the world s largest engineering organization. A recent article in the New York Times said that one of the greatest setbacks to people s career advancement is the fear of speaking, said Satra.

3 The competition in the business world is fierce. In order to succeed in higher management and leadership positions, people must be able to present ideas and information clearly, succinctly, persuasively and effectively. Facing this fear is more important today then ever before. In this technological age, so much of our communication is done electronically, so we have less opportunity to practice speaking. When organizations finally arrange to have everyone in a meeting, the pressure is on to make it count. People are expected to perform at a high level immediately, said Satra. Below is some useful information from the workshop that can be used to create your own ice breaker speech. These are fundamental skills that can be applied to any speech you give, whether it is a 2 minute icebreaker or a two hour presentation. How to Write and Present an Icebreaker Speech Initial questions to ask your self: Satra, who played leading roles in soap opera s, including Guiding Light and One Life to Live, says that before creating a speech, just like analyzing a scene and creating a character, you should answer the following basic questions: 1. What is my objective - what is the one thing you want your audience to know when they leave your presentation? You should be able to write this in one sentence. 2. Who am I speaking to? Know your audience. 3. When/where is it taking place? Know your logistics. 4. How am I going to achieve my objective? 5. What is the greatest obstacle in achieving my objective and how can I overcome this? Selecting a Topic: An Icebreaker Speech is supposed to be about you. Select a topic that you re passionate about because your enthusiasm will be contagious. For example you can talk about a hobby,

4 an interesting experience you had or a challenge you overcame. If you find that you have a lot to talk about then narrow down your topic. A good way to know that you ve done this is when you re able to state your topic in one simple sentence. Writing your speech: There are several different recipes for writing an Icebreaker Speech. An easy method to use is the Three Supporting Points Method that includes an opening, three supporting points and a closing. Opening The opening of your Ice Breaker Speech should get your audience s attention and state the purpose of your speech, so that your audience knows what you will be talking about for the next few minutes. Supporting Points Following your opening you will mention a few supporting points that support the purpose of your speech. Three is a good number of points, but you can use more or less. These points can be in the form of examples and personal stories that illustrate the points you re trying to make. When giving personal stories, provide your audience specific details that will help them to better visualize and understand what you are telling them. For example, instead of saying, I took a ride in my car, say I took a ride down a few side streets in my Hummer. To help your audience understand and remember your points, you may want to use the following structure. First, state your point. Second, state your point again, but in different words. Third, illustrate your point by telling them an example or personal story. Last, state your point again.

5 If you don t use this method and just state your point and quickly continue on to your next point, your audience will likely miss your point so what s your point? Transitional Phrases To make sure your audience knows when you are moving from one point to another, use transitional phrases or words, such as, My first point is, My second point is, from there, we or after analyzing, we Closing The closing of your speech should be memorable and also summarize, or re-cap, the points you mentioned in your speech. Editing your speech: Write out your speech in full. Satra said, I m often asked how many pages do you write for a 4-6 minute speech? On average, most women speak about 150 words per minute and men speak about 125 words per minute. So depending on font and type you can estimate pages on this formula. After your speech is written out, edit it. Remove any unnecessary words and points. Every point you make should support the purpose of your speech if it doesn t then remove it. Remove any humorous statements or jokes that you feel may offend someone in your audience. When it comes to including humor in speeches, be careful because you don t always know if you re going to offend someone. Review your overall language in your speech. Make sure your words are not complicated and are conversational. Your speech should read like a conversation you re having with family or friends around a kitchen table. Creating a Key Word Outline: You may want to create a Key Word Outline to have with you when you give your speech.

6 The outline is basically a list of key words that will help remind you of what you want to say. This outline can be written on a piece of paper or note cards. To create a Key Word Outline, first take your full speech and turn it into a sentence outline, than turn this outline into a Key Word Outline. When you re giving your speech, you don t want to have the full speech in front of you because your eyes will most likely be on the speech trying to figure out what you wrote instead of being on the audience. Satra says that many people feel the need to have their whole speech with them because they think they won t remember what they want to say. Satra says that this isn t necessary, Our brains know more then we think they do. Practicing your Speech: Practice your speech several times out loud until you feel comfortable, but don t memorize it because your speech will end up sounding wooden. Memorizing will also reduce your ability to be flexible in what you say. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you have your speech opening and closing well practiced and are familiar with the points you plan on making in the middle of your speech. You should also rehearse well any important facts or statistics you plan on mentioning. If possible, practice your speech in front of family members or friends because they can provide you valuable feedback and it will provide you a good way to practice making eye contact with your audience. If this is not possible, than practicing in front of a mirror is a good alternative. The idea is to get used to looking at other people as you are speaking. Tape it. Having an audio or video tape of your presentation can help you improve your speech. For example, listening to a tape of your speech can show you if you need to reword something and if your speaking pace is good. A tape of your speech is also a good way to time out your presentation and you can also use this tape as a future

7 reference in the event you have to give the same speech at a later time. Presenting your speech ~ Show Time! Satra said, When I first started speaking, people used to say oh, you're an actress, speaking must be easy for you. She continued, I had to laugh a little as I thought, I ve spent most of my life learning how to play different characters, read other peoples lines and pretend that the audience was not there. Now I need to play me, read my lines, and speak directly to the audience - it is a different skill. With that said there are a great deal of acting skills that can be brought to presenting. Use Body Language ~ Actions speak louder then words Actors are trained to use their bodies and voices. Utilizing greater body language, showing the audience and not just telling them, can make speeches much more effective, said Satra. For example, if you are talking about a great throw in a football game, demonstrate throwing the ball. You may also want to use facial expressions and gestures to emphasize a point or add humor. Satra told the workshop attendees an experience she had that really demonstrated the importance of using body language when expressing your self. When people audition for commercials, often these auditions are videotaped and these tapes are later viewed by people who select people for the commercial. One time I had an opportunity to watch these tapes being viewed. They sped through the tapes and only stopped on those people that showed the most facial expressions and body language in their audition - These are the people they wanted promoting their products and services! Vocal Variety Stretch you vocal range to make your point and keep your audience engaged. You can do this by varying our speaking volume, pitch, pace and using pauses.

8 Volume: Speak loud enough for people to hear you in the room you are presenting. Pitch: Speak at a higher pitch to create excitement and at a lower pitch to emphasize a point. Pace: Speak at a faster pace, or speed, to create tension and slow down your pace when you want the audience to hear exactly what you are saying. Pauses: Include pauses in your speech to accentuate a point, give your audience a moment to think about the importance of what was said or to indicate a transition. Satra, who has two young children, said, Practice using the same vocal variety in your speech as you would in reading a story to a child because children don t respond to words, but to voices. Show emotion Actors are facile in accessing many levels of emotions. This can be a useful tool for speakers when they re telling stories, said Satra. Studies show that people remember what they feel, not what they've heard. So by delving into a story and tapping into those emotions the audience is then able to retain more of what you want to convey. Satra said that studies show that 55% of what people remember about a speech is non-verbal - what they see and feel. Make Eye Contact Connect with a person in the audience for a minimum of 3 seconds and then move to another person. Locate those friendly faces. Tips for Moving Past Fear: Satra provides the following useful tools for minimizing fear when public speaking: 1. Focus on what you want the audience to learn from your presentation. This helps get your focus off of yourself and

9 on to what really matters. Our fear is primarily caused by worrying about what people think about us - everything from what you look and sound like to whether people will like your presentation. There really is nothing you can do to control that. However you can control where you put your attention and how you deliver your speech. 2. Practice your presentation out loud and if possible in front of other people. This will set you up for success and it is probably the #1 thing that people don't take time to do -make it part of the preparation process! 3. Watch your body language. We all have a "nervous stance," often our shoulders are tight, our head is slightly down, and we don't breath as deeply. This stance sends the message to our nervous system "there is danger." This is not the message we want to send our body before a talk. Likewise we have a "power stance." When you imagine a time when you felt powerful, in control and were enjoying the experience, how did you carry yourself? Generally, our shoulders are comfortably down, we stand up straighter, our breathing is normal, and our face is relaxed. We have the ability to consciously move into either stance and it does effect how we feel. Before a talk notice how you are standing or sitting and if necessary shift into your "power stance." 4. Connect to something that makes you feel empowered, such as music, a visual, power gesture, a smell, clothing or an object. 5. Try to engage with some members of your audience before you speak. This helps break the ice and create a connection before you even begin to speak and it is very nice to have a few friendly faces in the audience especially in the beginning when you are most nervous. 6. Stand or walk around before you speak if possible. Movement helps shake out the nervous energy. Know that some nervousness is good - it energizes your presentation and helps you focus. 7. Use eye contact. This may seem counterintuitive because the more nervous we are, the more we want to look away.

10 However, truly engaging with individuals helps create rapport and connection which makes everyone feel more comfortable and interested. Scan the room for friendly faces and make eye contact with them first. It will help ease your nerves and create positive feedback in the room. 8. Keep in mind that your audience does not expect perfection, nor should you. 9. Breathe! Many people are nervous about speaking because they don't feel like they have anything to say and wonder whether people will be interested, said Satra. I believe everyone has something unique and special to share. Speaking is a powerful medium for teaching, sharing and touching all walks of life. I encourage everyone to get up and practice - we do want to hear what you have to say and we all have the capacity to make a difference! To learn more about Icebreaker Speeches and other forms of public speaking, please visit Toastmasters International at Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a technical writer-editor and speaker/instructor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. She s published in numerous national and international publications and provides courses on writing and public speaking. She can be reached at and her work can be viewed at Sonia Satra is an actress, certified life coach and an award-winning speaker with Toastmasters International. She can be reached at To learn more about what she can provide you and your organization, please visit

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