The Icebreaker

18 years ago I gave my first four to six minute icebreaker speech with Gahanna Toastmasters. Tonight I started a new path, Engaging Humor, and gave my 4th icebreaker speech to Grove City Toastmasters. I thought I would share the contents of the speech with all of you just for fun.

Cat K. Thompson – Version 2.0

When you read the information in the Pathways program about how to give an Icebreaker, it tells you to share facts about yourself and to talk about your goals and why you joined Toastmasters. I will admit to you tonight, that when I joined Toastmasters 18 years ago, I didn’t think I needed it. I had no goals. I thought my husband was just going to put my name on the roster so his club could have twenty members. Little did I know, I would be asked to give my Icebreaker two weeks later.

When I gave that first icebreaker, I used one word to describe myself. Teacher. My entire speech detailed my experiences as a teacher. I had taught pre-k, elementary, middle school, and high school kids as well as adults. I’d taught Spanish, English, and Ballroom dance. Being a teacher was how I defined myself. Now, I realize that there is much more to me than that. I’m still a teacher. I always will be. It’s one of the reasons the Toastmasters educational program is so important to me. But I’m many other things too.

I a mom. Which means I spend a good deal of time drinking wine, rolling my eyes, breathing deeply, and talking to myself. Did I mention I have two teenagers?

I’m a romance novelist. You all know that.

I’m a good person, good listener, and good friend.

But apart from any titles or roles, I’m just me. A woman who likes to read romance novels. Cheesy, sappy, predictable romance novels. I like Hallmark Movies too! I have an app on my phone to track which ones I’ve seen. And yes, I watch Christmas movies in July, and October, and November. I’m aware that they all have identical plots and 90% of them star the same actors. But I like knowing that twenty minutes before it ends, they will encounter a problem, the situation will get worse by ten minutes to the hour, and with only five minutes to spare, they will finally resolve everything just in time to get back together and have their first big kiss. Maybe I just like the predictability of them amidst the events of my own crazy life.

I watch soap operas too! I go to soap opera conventions to the meet soap stars. And now that we can’t even do that in person, yes, I have actually paid money to meet with soap stars on Zoom. Multiple times! I watch soaps every day. Even though the stories often annoy me because the writers don’t seem nearly as dedicated to the integrity of the characters as I am. This is why, after only a bit of cajoling from my Soap Twitter Posse, I started writing my own General Hospital Fanfiction. Fanfiction! I always thought that was something desperate people wrote in their rooms alone at night. I guess that means I am desperate, if only for a good story!

So why tell you all of this ridiculous stuff about myself? When I gave that first speech, I think I chose the teacher angle because it made me feel important. My motivation for sharing all of these potentially embarrassing details is that I now realize I don’t need you to think I’m important. I don’t need to impress you. I need to be free to be me and to like who I am. Because if I can’t love myself, who can?

Where do I go from here in Toastmasters? That remains to be seen. But I know I will continue to share the joy of Toastmasters with others so they can empower themselves and change their lives . I chose the Engaging humor path because I might as well have fun along the way. Who couldn’t use a little fun? If I can engage those middle school students that ain’t bad either. I hope I will entertain fellow Toastmasters and readers along the way. If nothing else, I will entertain myself. And maybe, just maybe, that’s enough.

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I recently competed in the International Speech Contest in one of my Toastmasters clubs. I was fortunate enough to win not only the club contest, but also the Area and Division Level contests. Last weekend, I had the rare opportunity to compete against the best speakers from eight other divisions in District 40 Toastmasters, one of whom was my husband.  While I didn’t win that round, I can honestly say my speech improved with every presentation and based on the comments I received, it still touched a few hearts and brought a few laughs. Below is the blog version of my competition speech.

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I teach in an affluent middle school with over 1,000 kids and I live with a 5th and an 8th grader. And those children are forever telling me how tough their lives are. Like when I assign them homework or ask them to take a shower… #FirstWorldProblems They think I’m soooo lucky to be an adult. And they’re right. I am very fortunate. But we all know life is never without challenges. Like many of you, I have traveled a pretty rough road.

When I was a baby, my mom called me a spider monkey because I was a long, skinny preemie. I weighed just under four pounds and I spent the first of month of my life in the hospital.

By the time I was one or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t developing quite like other kids. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t control the left side of my body. I was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy. I was clumsy and awkward. I was the kid who wore special shoes. I was the kid who couldn’t run fast and never got picked for kick ball in gym class. I was the kid voted most likely to get stuck in the ball pit at Sea World. No, really, when I was four, I actually got stuck in the ball pit at Sea world. #TrueStory It took two dumbfounded teenage employees twenty minutes to drag me out!

In high school, one kindhearted young man used to walk by me in the halls and growl “ARGH, me peg-leg! And in Spanish class, they used to draw pictures of Super Chicken on the board with a speech bubble that read, “Me llamo Ana.” They made up a dance and everything. Because they said I walked like a chicken. Needless to say, those things didn’t exactly foster self-confidence. (Side note: Yes, I chose the name Ana so that I could be Anna Devane.) #GeneralHospital

When I was seven, my dad decided to divorce my mom. Since I’d listen to my parents fight for years, it was really a relief to be with just my mom. But that still meant I became the child of a single parent. We no longer had the money to buy the name brand clothes and toys. So, I was not only physically handicapped, I was fashion handicapped too. #TeenNightmare Later, while my college friends were bumming money from their parents to go shopping or out to lunch, I was working multiple jobs to pay for my books, insurance, clothes, and food, and helping my mother pay the rent.

When I do tell my kids stories from my childhood, they tend to stare back in wide-eyed horror. #SpoiledButDontKnowIt And I have to remind them that while I may have hit a few potholes, I also saw some beautiful sights and learned a few lessons on the road of life.

First, I learned to work hard. I learned to studied hard, I showed up and gave my best effort, even on my worst day. I made mistakes, but I learned from my mistakes. I got grit.

I also learned to surround myself with the right people. I wasn’t popular in school. I had about two friends. But those two friends were true friends who loved me for everything I was, and maybe everything I wasn’t. I was also fortunate to find people like my high school English teacher, Debi Mansour,  who gave me my first and only D on a paper. Like most of my students, I thought my life was over. I was so mad at her! It took me a while to realize that she did it because she loved me and knew I was capable of more. It’s thanks to others like her, my karate instructor, my dance teacher, my husband, and my closest coworkers, that I’m reminded to focus on what I can do, what I do well, rather than what I can’t. They believe in me but push me to be better every day.

Lastly, I learned to love and respect myself. I used to think I was a total weirdo because I played with Barbie dolls way longer than most kids and one summer I kept a journal with the happenings of three different soap operas. Seriously, who does that? I still love soaps. I go to conventions to meet the stars. Several times a year. So, I’m a little eccentric. But I realize now the “crazy” are what fuel my creativity and heighten my sense of drama. They’re the things that make me a better writer and a more interesting teacher. They’re the things that make me who I am, the things that make me happy. If others think it’s weird, well… As my grandma used to say, “If they don’t like it, they can look the other way.”

Life will never be without struggles. But be willing to accept the challenges. In the long run, the fight is what builds character. Find the people who challenge you and support you, and if you want to be happy with life, be happy with yourself.

As for me, I’m proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a published author. I have learned and taught ballroom dance and earned a brown belt in Kenpo karate. Okay… it’s not a black belt. But I’ve come long way from that timid girl called Super Chicken. Folks, this chicken has crossed that proverbial road, bumpy as it was, and you all can, too. Join me on the other side!

Insanity Now

For those of you who were alarmed by the title – no, it is not a counterattack on Susan Powter, the 90’s fitness guru, who encouraged us to “Stop the insanity!” It is, in fact, a tip sheet with advice on what to do and what not to do to win a Humorous Speech contest. Some of you may be thinking, “Don’t compete in the first place!” But that is not my advice. Speech contests, while scary and nerve-wracking, are also entertaining and exciting. Going to a Toastmasters Area contest is always a great networking and educational experience. If you want the additional satisfaction of taking home a trophy, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. Do practice. Practice frequently. Practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror. Stomp around in your living room to practice staging. Talk to yourself, no matter who’s watching, and no matter how ridiculous it makes you feel.
  2. Do not forget to put the time and place on your calendar and then proceed to forget about the contest entirely until the day before.
  3. Do get a good night’s sleep on the eve of the contest.
  4. Do not assume that six hours of sleep will be sufficient. If you go out with friends and dance until after midnight, chances are, even your new Mary Kay makeup will not be enough to hide the dark circles, and you will not have the energy needed to put on your best show. (Especially if you are old enough to remember Susan Powter in the first place.)
  5. Do everything you can to prepare for the contest in advance, so you can feel confident the day of, and remain unshaken when the competition appears funnier than you.
  6. Do not sweat it. If the contestant before you gives a speech titled “Insanity Now” about suffering at the hands of his wife on a torturous trip to the grocery store, in an amusing accent, with great gestures and expressions… chances are, you’re going to lose anyway. Sit back, relax, and enjoy it!