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.

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made. Go ahead, fellow Toastmasters. Consult your manuals. Check the Toastmasters International site. No, you are not crazy. The real slogan still reads Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made. But I think most Toastmasters would agree that the organization helps us to grow in a great number of ways. We become better speakers, true leaders, and in many cases, real writers. If you google the topic, you will find an assortment of articles and podcasts about it and testimonials from individual members who have become published authors. It stands to reason that Toastmasters would be beneficial to those of us looking to publicize and promote our books. But I’d like to share with you a few of the ways Toastmasters helped me with the writing process itself and allowed me to take Once in Love with Lily from a fun, little National Novel Writing Month project to a published novel.

First, crafting speeches gave me an edge when it came to structuring my story. In the beginning, I struggled with the story arc. While the action was intriguing, it lacked the proper flow. Then one day, my editor, fellow Toastmaster Eileen James, said to me, “Think about how you put together a good speech. You begin by thinking about the end. Where do you want to go with this speech or story? What is the intended ending? Now, how do you get there? Remember to tie the ending back to the beginning to satisfy the audience’s need for cohesiveness.” A novel is a bigger project than a speech, but it still has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Once I started thinking of it that way, I was able to put together a story that was grounded, but showed growth, as the characters learned real lessons.

Second, through my experiences as an evaluator, grammarian, or ah-counter, I learned to become a good listener. This can be very helpful when coming up with ideas for stories. (Consider that fair warning that anything you say can and may be used against you in a future novel!) In addition, it helps to create realistic, natural-sounding dialog. I’ve become accustomed identifying patterns of speech, accents, verbal ticks, colorful quotes or phrases. I’m not that creative after all. I could never have come up with something like “He’s all hat and no cattle.” But bits like that are the things that make characters real and, I hope, make the dialog come alive on the page.

Third, as early as project four in the Competent Communicator Manual “How to say it” we are taught to look at word choice, to choose words that paint a vivid picture and convey the most accurate visual or explanation possible. If I hadn’t known “how to say it”, I might have kept descriptions simple with something like: “As she walked down the streets of New York, she couldn’t help but notice how crowded and noisy it was.” But thanks to my Toastmasters training, I came up with this:

She headed down 8th Avenue through the throngs of people already crowding the streets. “Ah, New York,” she thought. “The honking taxis, the charming street vendors with their poached sunglasses and purses, and the faint smell of homeless that lurks just off the main drag really give it a certain je ne sais quoi.” She crossed the street against the light along with the natives, leaving a gaggle of tourists in the dust. (Excerpt from Once in Love with Lily by Cathryn K. Thompson)

Which example did the better job of transporting you to the streets of NYC? Of course, the second example would be pretty wordy for a typical 5-7 minute manual speech, but in a novel there is room to elaborate.

I can’t say that Toastmasters has taught me much about romance. There is a code of ethics to contend with, after all. But it certainly has helped me to hone my writing skills, to tell a story with a goal or lesson, to depict true-to-life characters and conversations, and to choose the best way to say it when it comes to setting the scene or conveying emotions. I never knew I had an author in me. Maybe you do too. You never know when or where inspiration will strike. When it does, Fellow Toastmasters,  take advantage of your already vast experience. Write it down. Develop it. Tell your own story. Even if you have to publish it under an assumed name! Show the world what Toastmasters has done for you.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, visit a club near you and experience it for yourself. Toastmasters: Where Leaders… and Authors… Are Made.

Saturday—The Grand Ole Family Vacay Begins!

We left home in the Ford Fiesta before 8:30 am, two parents, two kids, and several suitcases, ready for our first big family road trip. The gas tank was full and the excitement was high. It didn’t last long. By 8:53, we’d already had one episode of carsickness and one coffee spill in the new car. As the Starbucks soaked into the interior and the scent of used Asiago bagel wafted into the front seat, I shook my head and thought, “I can’t have nice things!” We hadn’t even made it off of the outer belt yet and we’d already had multiple mishaps. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the day—and the trip—to come.

Fortunately, things did improve from that point forward. Seven hours and one Cracker Barrel Stop later, we rolled into the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, rolled being the operative word. We actually rolled to a stop behind a very long line of other travelers eager to begin their own Opry Land Experience. After nearly another hour of starting and stopping, we reached the entrance and unloaded for the night. Children and parents alike were thrilled with the hotel accommodations, particularly the beautiful Cascade Conservatory filled with blooms and waterfalls of all kinds to explore.

Cascade Conservatory at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel

We grabbed a slice of pizza from Paisano’s and we were off to the main attraction: A Night at the Grand Ole Opry! To be honest, this was not something that my husband and kids were all that thrilled about, but they indulged me, as I insisted that like it or not, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should take advantage of. Hubby made jokes throughout the show to amuse himself, claiming that John Conlee was actually our own Bud Watkins, former District 40 Governor for Toastmasters International. Child number one repeatedly threatened to doze off, while child number two interrupted frequently to point out that the entire event would be much more exciting, if only there were snacks to be had. I, while never truly a country music fan either, was enthralled, lapping up every note and at times, getting just a little misty.

Grand Ole Opry House

At some point, I questioned what exactly it was about the whole thing that could evoke such emotion. I think it’s this. Every star that appeared on stage that night, whether old or young, seemed to show a genuine concern and respect for each other that often seems lacking in pop culture. They truly appeared to be one big family. When Little Jimmy Dickens, who was easily 90 years old, ambled out on stage and sang, admiration filled the air. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining the same type of reception for Britney Spears performing at age 100. Not only that, but the stories told by the music were incredible and there was no use of auto-tune or synthesized music. There was something simple, very raw, and very real about all of the performances that you just don’t get from most pop music these days. I was touched. I don’t know if I’d call myself a country fan just yet, but my appreciation for the genre might run just a little deeper.

We walked back to the hotel, enjoying the night air, happy to be away from the Ohio weather. We fell into bed, ready for some much needed rest. And as I lie there in the darkness listening to my son urging his sister to keep her feet off of him, I thought, “Day one is done. Only seven more to go!”

 

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!