Toastmaster Icebreaker

by Marty Jezer

Well I did better than the U.S. men's hockey team. I came home from Toastmasters with a trophy. (And I also cleaned up my room!!!).

Got the trophy for table topics. A two minute dissertation on some sage wisdom by that noted day time philosopher Oprah Winfrey.

I also did my icebreaker. It went pretty well, at least I didn't go down like the Titanic.

I believe I was very effective in getting what I wanted to say across (and folks even laughed at my jokes!). I was less fluent than I had hoped but more relaxed and in-charge than I have ever been in this situation.

Slow and steady progress continues. For those who don't know me personally, I have a pretty good stutter -- can't hide it -- avoidance is not an option for me. Two and three years I contemplated doing "open mike" speeches at the various self-help conventions with sweaty palms, pounding heart, and much trepidation. It was enough that I made the speeches. My brain was so fried that I have no recollection of them.

Only in the past year or so half have I been able to make these speeches with a degree of confidence and self-awareness. What I try to do is slow my speech and use some voluntary stuttering. There is a comfort zone, in which my brain is calm enough to achieve those goals, which I achieve in practice to friends at home, but which I've rarely been able to achieve in the actual situation. But I'm getting closer. I'm no longer nervous before hand. I've come to look forward to these speeches. Still, a few hours before the speech, my mind does heat up. Driving to the Toastmaster meeting I felt the impossibility of getting out the phrase "Fellow Toastmasters." How can I not block on the F, I thought, and then move into the vowel. It seemed beyond my capability. But I knew that if I really hit those words slowly and really hit that F-f-f-f Fellow with a deliberate repetitive (but controlled) stutter, I could move through it ... and I did.

There's no secret to doing this stuff. It's just practice and getting out and doing it. Each time it seems a little easier, more fun -- and that comfort zone becomes less illusive.

In seems (for me at least) that the techniques are not as important as creating the comfort zone, a mental quiet that overrides fear and anxiety and that allows me to be aware of how I'm speaking and call on my techniques. The techniques, when well used, reinforce the comfort zone.

I'm not talking about giving up spontaneity. The trick, for me, is to find a balance between spontaneity and mental calmness. And for the record, resonance is not, for me at least, a problem. A number of people commented that my voice is resonant, expressive and that I speak clearly.

One final note: Fifteen years ago Martin Schwartz suggested -- as he suggests to all his clients -- that I join Toastmasters. I thought he was crazy. People who stutter don't do public speaking. Then I met people like Russ, Mike Hurwitz (and so many more!!!) who do stutter and are in Toastmasters. Unbeknownst to them, I secretly hired them as my own personal role models.

The magic of Toastmasters, like the magic of the NSP, Speakeasy, CAPS, etc., is that we meet people who share our fears and self- perceived limitations ... and who have overcome theirs. And we think, if they can do it, I can do it ... and we do it.

And if I can do it, you better believe that you can do it! Maybe not tomorrow or next month, but keep an eye on me and those others who are taking the steps that you now fear. It'll eventually dawn on you that you can take some of these steps too.

posted to Stutt-L and added with permission, February 21, 1998
Marty Jezer: mjezer@IGC.APC.ORG