Speech of the Week: The Ice Breaker

Today, I’ll be presenting my Toastmasters Ice Breaker speech, which I first presented on July 11, 2013.  I’m presenting this speech as an example to a new group of Toastmasters at a club I’m helping to start at my company. This speech means a lot to me because working on my public speaking has had a major impact on my life. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of practice and I’d get nervous, my palms would sweat, and I would have rather done almost anything else.  During the speech, I remember grasping onto the podium with a range of emotions swirling around me. Fear, panic, and trying to remember my key points.  For a period of time I lost my place, but luckily no one noticed.

After this speech and while I began attending regular meetings, I learned that these are similar fears most beginning Toastmasters experience. In these past two going on three years, I missed about a year in between when I switched jobs and couldn’t find a club that worked with my schedule.  Eventually, I got back into a routine. Now, I’m giving a speech every single week and I’ll continue to do so until the end of the year.

Every speech I learn something new. I’m far from perfect but each time I try to improve on something, whether it’s my content, structure, delivery, vocal variety, eye contact, body language, grammar, or visual aids. Each speech is a learning experience and, more importantly, an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.

Everyone starts somewhere.  This speech represents my starting point. I love this speech because I could never write this speech again.  I’m no longer the same person.

It’s Tuesday, March 6th, 2012.  I’ve just arrived home from work when my wife calls me to come downstairs. Her voice is filled with urgency so I rushed down the steps to see what the was matter. My wife looked like she was about to cry and tells me, my stepmother found my father unconscious on their back porch after she arrived home from work and he was being rushed to the hospital.  My stepmother said she would call us when she found out how he was doing. We spent the next forty-five minutes driving to the Mon-Valley hospital with both our minds racing through the range of emotions and each of us hoping to receive a phone call.

The call never came.

My father suffered a heart attack and died that day.

I don’t tell this story to make this meeting a sad one.  When thinking about my Ice Breaker speech I thought about all the topics I could talk about today.  I could talk about how I’ve been married to an amazing women for over 4 years, who is my rock, and who is only a few weeks away from giving birth to our first child, a baby boy, who’s named after my father.  When I was thinking about an event that explains where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s this story. My father’s death changed me the way only losing someone you love can change you.  This event is the reason I’m here today.

I’ve thought about coming to Toastmasters before my father died.  I’ve known about the benefits of the program. I’ve read books from people who believe this program changes lives, but I never came to a meeting because I was afraid. I was afraid to screw up, sound stupid, or realize I had nothing interesting to say. I worried about how people think about what I said. What I was really afraid of was being rejected by my peers.

When my father died, I realized something we all know but repress.  We all know that our life here on earth is finite.  My problem was, I wasn’t living as if this was true, I was afraid to take chances, to take risks.  Professionally, I’ve been procrastinating.  Like Steve Jobs referenced in his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, where he talked about looking in the mirror each day and asking himself this question, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”  Whenever the answer is ‘No’ for too many days in a row, he knows he needs to change something.  For me the answer was ‘No’ for too many days in a row.  I needed to change and I’ve to begun to make many changes in my life.  Coming to these meetings is one of those changes.

This coming year offers another full year of changes and challenges.  I cannot wait to try and tackle all of them.  I’ll be a new father, I’ll be completing my graduate degree, I’ll been learning to code, I’m going to complete a Tough Mudder race, I want to write a daily blog post, and find a job that gives me more freedom and challenges me to grow.  It’s going to be an exciting year and I hope Toastmasters will be a prominent part.

Next year at this time, I hope to receive my CC and CL. I hope to be a contributing member and get to know all of you better. I hope to be changed by this process that has helped so many other people.  I hope to become a better speaker and impromptu speaker.  I hope to come to these meetings and challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.  To reach to a place I haven’t been before.  I hope to experience all of your speeches and the challenges they give you.  I hope to see the accomplishments and errors this process creates.  I hope to screw up, say something dumb, and have people not agree with me.  I hope you didn’t hate this speech and I look forward to your feedback, but I also don’t care because this is my opinion and I meant every word of it.  I was lost but I will not make the same mistake again.  I hope…

The night of my father’s death was the worst moment of my life, but it doesn’t do me any good to sit around and feel bad for myself.  He was an amazing father and he’d want me to keep moving forward.

My main hope here at Toastmasters is to leave this meeting, a little better than when I entered.