Importance of the Icebreaker

Toastmasters Storytelling“I can talk for hours about my job or when conducting a presentation at work, but I can’t hold a personal one-on-one conversation for two minutes.”

Do you or have you felt that way? Many of us are great communicators when we are not part of the speech, presentation or story. However, your personal stories may be the best connection to your audience.

Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.
– Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University

Talking about latest products, awards, achievements and advancements are impressive, but often they are cold hard facts. To connect with an audience, there needs to be a warm, soft story that talks to the heart of the audience.

According to an online article (, “When you tell a story during your presentation, you can potentially activate up to seven areas of your audience members’ brains, as compared to the two areas of the brain that you can awaken if you tell only facts and stats during your presentation.

The best stories to share are the personal ones. The ones based upon failures, fears, successes, learning lessons and struggles. Think makeover or transformation.

Icebreaker is a term which describes an activity that reduces tension and anxiety in a group while forging new bonds.

In Toastmasters, the Icebreaker is often seen as a way for new members to introduce themselves to the club. They are encouraged to talk about their life, job, hobbies, interests or how they found themselves at Toastmasters. It is presented to the new member as an “easy topic” for you are talking about something you know — yourself.

I, however, think the importance of the Icebreaker is more than an introduction to the club. It is an introduction on HOW to insert YOU into speeches. This is the most important baseline for all speeches, over hand gestures and vocal variety.

If you can get up there and speak from the heart, you win the hearts of your audience. Even if it is a business meeting on financial asset management.

What’s your thoughts on storytelling? How do you incorporate it into your speeches?

Additional Resources:




Toastmasters: More Than Just Speeches

A guest at this week’s Toastmasters shared a revelation that coincided with this week’s theme of “Contrary to Popular Beliefs.” He admitted that he thought joining Toastmasters was going to be about him. About him making speeches. About him learning how to be a better communicator.

What he didn’t know was that Toastmasters is really about hearing other people’s stories. Connecting with others. It’s about . . . others.

When I used to dragon boat, there were three stages of paddler awareness. The first stage was beginner. This is the awkward stage where you are focused on what you are doing and whether you are doing it right. Your awareness was only for the bench you were on.

DragonBoats.JPGThe second stage of awareness developed over time. Eventually, the paddler realized that if they moved in sync with the bench in front of them and behind them, the paddles didn’t bang together as much. The awareness circle widens just a bit to the benches around them.

The third stage was when the paddler realized that their bench, their pod was part of the entire effort. All ten benches working together is what gives the boat lift and glides it through the water.

When we join Toastmasters, it is easy to see what it is we want to do. What we need help doing. Our focus is on our personal challenges or limits.

It’s only after a few meetings and a few experiences in the meeting roles that we start to realize how our presence helps to “lift” the meetings and “guide” others. It’s more than just our speeches — it’s listening, supporting and assisting others.

When we bring others into the mix, we care about the larger community. The boat. The club.

It is through the speeches, or stories we tell, that we are able to engage with the “boat.” People start to see the true person standing at the lectern. They see beyond our perceived short comings to the powerful person in each of us. Our teammate.

Contrary to popular belief, Toastmasters isn’t just about speeches. It’s about teamwork. It’s about others.

A few other highlights from this week’s meeting:

  • Sandy W. delivered a persuasive speech on the Power of Punishment and how poverty of spirit, hope and finances has impacted our prison system.
  • Michael W. shared his personal story of grief from the death of his dog with a beautiful poem. His realization that we never know what may happen was expressed in a self-composed song that he performed for us.
  • Ria Q. took center stage for her first role as Toastmaster. Hats off to a job well done.
  • Sheila C. offered us a laugh break with a joke she got from her children. It was her first time as Jokemaster and she knocked it out of the park like DiMaggio.

Note: Please sign up for roles for next week’s meeting. The theme is Say It With a Song!

Choices, Chances & Changes: The Morning Tide of Toastmasters

Three Cs of Life: Choices Chances and Change

This week’s Toastmasters Summer morning series had the perfect backdrop for the theme — speeches from the CC manuals.  One could hear the gentle lap of waves as three people took center stage in Sharon’s backyard to deliver their speech. The ocean waters repetitive, hypnotic beat was the perfect complimentary background noise to our speeches of choices, chances and changes.

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”

I (Weegee S.) gave my second speech (but the third in the CC manual) about how CHANCE played a role in my life. After a series of misfortunes, I was given the chance to learn to call for a dragonboat. While I was filling in for a short time, the promotion taught me a valuable lesson in how to handle CHANGE and using my voice effectively to communicate with my support group.

“Destiny is all about the choices we make and the chances we take.”

Sharon K. eloquently delivered her Ice Breaker speech where she talked about the three CHOICES that brought her back to Gibsons, BC time and again. Her tale, told from her own backyard, was about the houses and the property we were sitting in with a filter that gave us a view into how it looked to her as a child. We saw how it changed since then and how it has changed her. She said she initially agreed with her parent’s choice to purchase the waterfront property because it had a tree swing, something that made her happy. It was that feeling that led her to make the two other choices to return to Gibsons — to stay.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.” — John C. Maxwell, public speaker and leadership expert

One of the things each of us does daily without putting much thought into it is communicate with others. Conversation is a fine art that many of us overlook, neglect or have let our skills fall to the wayside. However, it is a necessary skill to take a chance encounter and change it into a lifelong friendship. Sheila C., in a speech from the Advanced Interpersonal Communications manual, showed identified techniques to use when conversing with strangers and the different levels of conversation (small talk, fact disclosure, viewpoints and opinions and personal feelings). She offered us a way to CHANGE how we interact with fellow Toastmasters, the grocery store clerk and even people in our lives who could use a promotion in how we classify them.

The morning meeting was topped off by a round of Table Topics, random questions picked out of an envelope for those willing to be put on the spot. It is no wonder that each participate picked the one question best suited for them. Lucky choice? By chance?

The overall theme here is that each of us have signed up for change. Change in how we communicate. Change in our confidence. Change in how we present ourselves professionally and in small talk scenarios.  Each of us have made a choice and taken a chance on each other in Toastmasters to make that change. A process that is one step closer with every speech, evaluation or Table Topic discussion.

We are changing. And it only gets better from here!

Contributed by Weegee S.

NOTE: Special thank you to Sharon K. for hosting the morning meeting and offering a fantastic location for our speeches.

Next meeting will be on August 26th, hosted by Katherine. Check TurboBase and your emails for details!

A Road Less Traveled May Be the Perfect One

Safety Not Guaranteed Time Travel Robert Frost's Poem

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

The original newspaper advertisement seeking a partner for time traveling was written by John Silveira and published as filler in the September/October 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine.  

In the 2012 movie, “Safety Not Guaranteed”, a jerky reporter and two interns go an assignment to find and profile the person behind the ad. As it turns out, each have an ulterior motive for accepting the assignment: 1) to go back and see something cool; 2) to go back and prevent the death of a loved one; and 3) to travel down the path not chosen with a former love.

The idea of time travel speaks to all of us for it suggests a chance to alter your path by making a different choice. It is a fantasy in which we can pick that one moment in time when we would do something different. A moment we regret or wish we could take back.

Morningstars Toastmasters BC Sunshine CoastAs we sat in the beautiful waterfront yard of Frank C.’s Marina House (and eventually his front room) on Wednesday morning, each of us stood up and talked about a path in life taken that was less traveled (inspired by the Robert Frost poem).

For some, it was a path in which the deviated from what was considered the norm, the right way. For others, it was a path that they were guided down as they were pushed off the current one they walked. A few, sadly, made choices as a means of survival and with little time to evaluate wants.

As a group, we shared stories about conquering our fears. Our tales involved that moment when you knew what was changing inside you would forever impact the direction you choose from this point forward. We heard tales of adventures in foreign lands or how meeting a group learning the ropes of public speaking put a positive spin on their world.

The path may have been rocky, full of doubt in trying something new. There may have even been a void of not knowing what would happen next, if they could even do it. But in all the stories there was a hidden thread of courage. Everyone found a strength inside themselves that they didn’t know they had.

The only thing we didn’t talk about was regret. We didn’t talk about the chance lost, the missed opportunity or that one place in time when we reached a fork in the road and choose poorly. Not even when the ending was far from positive.

It’s just a theory, but I don’t think any of us would have signed up to go on the time travel mission.

The truth of it is, in the end, there’s a reason that path, road was less traveled. It was waiting for just the right person to claim it as theirs. The road less traveled that each of us took — was the absolute perfect one. It made us the strong, unique, funny, witty, adventuresome, welcoming, open, loving and creative people we see in ourselves and others.

Thank you to all of you who shared their stories, their hearts.

A special thank you to Frank C. and his lovely wife, Julie, for hosting and catering such a lovely Toastmasters meeting. It was beautiful and the food was amazing. Thank you.

NEXT MEETING: Greg will be hosting the next meeting. The theme is the Pecha Kucha. Please watch your emails or visit Turbobase for additional details.






Happy 90th Anniversary, Toastmasters

Written by Johanna Rzepa, VP of PR

Four new members and a guest this morning. Our club is growing. Members are developing their presentation skills by challenging themselves and encouraging others.

The Inspiration by Kate this morning was a toast to Sheila and her participation in the Division  Tall Tales Competition this past Sat in West Van where she won third standing. After presenting her speech entitled “Shadow” a few times for evaluation, it was clear the benefits of this process were very positive in relation to voice and idea development.

An amazing speech was delivered by Katherine from the Storytelling Advanced Manual. Information about the sound frequency, “528” Hz, was presented in a plot-style story with heroes and villains woven throughout. It was historically accurate and provided insight into how our environments can be manipulated and restored.

Cathie gave the second speech in recognition of Toastmaster’s 90 Year Anniversary and it’s connection with the Rotary Club. What has been sustained by both clubs over the years is their ethical principals. Cathie provided a clear understanding about how the four ethical guidelines are responsible for creating good will in the world.

Many thanks to all who participated. Signing up for roles this week worked well, and Kay, Chairperson for the meeting, acknowledged how this gives a firm grounding for our meeting.

The theme for next Wednesday’s meeting is Monsters I Loved in honour of Hallowe’en.

Theme, Tone and Inspiration: Made Alive

Made Alive was the theme.

Laughter and fun was the tone.

Growing and risking was the inspiration. Thanks, Larry.

Our last minute chair, Sandy, didn’t look at all unprepared as she stepped in to replace the designated chair who was  called away at the last minute. She handled last minute changes in the agenda with humour and grace and carried on like a pro.

Sheila did a repeat of her Tall Tale in preparation for the Division contest this Sat. Well done, Sheila.

Frank, who recently became a Distinguished Toastmaster, began the whole cycle over again by doing his Icebreaker speech, the very first speech that all of us give when we join.

Three of our guests from last week returned and are taking the plunge into the world of Toastmasters. Welcome to the fun, Jolanda, Loretta and Judy Lynn.

Our General Evaluator, PJ, stepped back and observed the overall meeting with a ‘soft focus’ and gave us a really unusual and insightful perspective, including thoughts on the significance of the club banners and how people shake hands when coming to the lectern.

So many of the things we do in a meeting are only noticeable when they don’t happen. Otherwise, it’s just a beautiful flow of passing the ‘authority’ to each individual as they stand or come to the front for their speech or role. That is such an essential part of Toastmasters. Great observations PJ.

For anyone wanting some more inspiration for ‘growing and risking’, here are some quick videos from former World Champion, Darren La Croix.

1) Storytelling: What is an “inciting incident” and why do speakers need one? (3:55 min)

2) What is the difference between gestures and body language? (3:36 min)

The Root of the Problem

Written by Johanna R, VP of PR

roots of a treeWith our theme being, “The Root of the Problem”, Chairperson Sandy Wrightman began the meeting holding a small wild leafy plant and lamenting the difficulty of getting to the root.

Just like our daily problems, we often just see the surface and not what is lying hidden below it.

Kate Wotton, as Inspirator, used the same plant metaphor. She
had applied it when teaching of health care workers in Africa about the need to look deeper at the structure and strength (of health) that roots give plants to produce prolific branches and leaves (wellness). Enchanting.

Just like the first speech from the Storytelling Manual delivered by Katherine Scott, told in story form, about the wind challenging the sun that the strength of  his gusty bravado would have the man below take off his cloak. It made the man cling to the cloak and bring it even closer to himself. When the sun shone brightly, on the other hand, the man removed his cloak.

Grammarian Kay Chapman, offered a good word for the day: penultimate…second to the last.

That was Johanna Rzepa’s introduction to her role of General Evaluator.

PJ was acknowledged for his reference to finding the root to generating new club members in his Table Topic questions.

Alicia in answering a Table Topics question, thought changing time perception in the community could help improve out membership numbers.

Sharon Langenberg, as second speaker, demonstrated the Competent Leader manual, and suggested that we could be strategic about the “leadership building” track as well as the “speaking confidence” aspect of Toastmasters.

Laughter, listening intently…a warm and earthy meeting all told.

Dogs With Jobs — Whatever Next?

Today’s post written by PJ Reece

Congratulations to Sheila Cameron and Sandy Wrightman for winning this morning’s contests—Tall Tales and Table Topics respectively.

Here are two Morningstars members at vastly different stages in their development as speakers — Sandy an accomplished DTM and Sheila with just three CC speeches to her credit. From where I sat—first row—both of them took giant steps forward this morning.

Sandy Wrightman owned the stage with her response to the Table Topic question: “How has living on the Sunshine Coast influenced your sense of identity?” Sandy proved just how important a role is played by enthusiasm, presence, and crisp declarative sentences.

dogSheila crafted (for my money) the perfect Tall Tale about her husband’s dog. It started off mundane (what’s more mundane than a dog?), then established that the dog was bright, and before we knew it the dog was earning a living behind the wheel to pay off its debts.

I’m proud of Sheila! Not least because I’m her mentor. Unfortunately I couldn’t assist her with this competition because I, too, competed. Next time, I’m seeking her help. Seriously, her Tall Tale was a model performance. (We would be wise to film it for future reference…Club Secretary, please make note of that.)

Thanks to everyone who showed up. And thanks to those who got involved as judges, timers, and counters, and especially our Contest Chair, Johanna Rzepa.

Sometimes, at the club level, all the contest paperwork and process seems like overkill. But I keep reminding myself that at Toastmasters we’re always training for leadership roles in the wider community. And what a great environment is Morningstars in which to practice, practice, practice.

Speaking of which, next week it’s back to our regular meeting. The theme is “The Root of the Problem.”

Hmm… seems no one has yet signed on as Toastmaster. Trust me, chairing a meeting is easier than coming up with a winning Tall Tale!

Maybe Sheila’s dog would like to step up and give it a try.



The Area Contest on the 4th has been cancelled.

Open House Breakfast Meeting Oct 8, 7 am.
Guests are most welcome and bring a friend.
The Table Topics Contest will also be held at this meeting.

Welcome Back ~ New Beginnings

Welcome Back Kotter reminiscences. Amping up the energy by way of the can-can. Four very welcome guests. Two speeches and  a tall tales mini workshop. Name changes. References to the International Speech Competition.  Announcements about upcoming contests and our open house breakfast. Every chair filled.

Those are just some of the things that were part of our first meeting of the regular fall schedule. The theme was New Beginnings and there were lots of those.

Patricia inspired us with her invitation to real reality, not virtual reality, as she told us the story of one competitor in the finals of the International Speech Competition. His first lines were I don’t have a speech. What courage and heart he demonstrated as he talked about competition and perfection. He didn’t win, but no one will forget Chris Woo.

Johanna and PJ entertained with two speeches from the Entertaining Speaker Manual. PJ took us to the movies with Movies and the Meaning of Life. Johanna hooked us all with her tall tale, Keeping Gibsons Great. We suspected, but didn’t know for sure, that the four women in her story were not really in jail. She then followed up with a tall tales mini workshop in preparation for the contest on Sept 24.

Frank and William (who announced that he is now William instead of Bill) were excellent evaluators for the two speeches.

We all got an A for listening this morning as Greg, our Quizmaster, couldn’t stump us with his questions.

Sharon as Grammarian, Larry as Timer, John as Jokemaster, Kay as Table Topics Master and PJ and David as Table Topics Evaluators fulfilled their roles with aplomb.

The meeting was rounded out with Cathie presenting her comments and suggestions as General Evaluator.

Thank you to our guests Frank, Heather, Joanne and Kate. It was great to meet you.

Upcoming dates:

Sept 24 Tall Tales and Table Topics Contest
Oct 4 Area Contest for Tall Tales and Table Topics
Oct 8 Open House Breakfast ~ All Welcome


It's a Funny Thing

Written by PJ Reece

It’s a funny thing—how at every Morningstars meeting I learn something new. Which makes me realize how little I knew in the first place.

There’s so much to learn if I intend to master the art of public speaking, which I do. I want to perfect my delivery, however long it takes.

On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that Toastmasters consider no speech “perfect.” Always room for improvement. Well, I feel better already, because after fumbling my lines (yet again!) during my talk about “The Perfect Mother” on Wednesday morning, I’ve been feeling discouraged.

The good news is that my speech was a rehearsal for the real thing next week. Thank you, Morningstars, all of you, for your evaluation slips. You appreciated the humour, which is a good thing, since my mother asked me specifically to be funny. PJsmomYou can see in the photograph taken at her 99th that she thinks birthdays are a riot.

On the other hand, I should be careful she doesn’t laugh herself to death. That wouldn’t be funny at all.

In any event, I’ll be deploying a revised version of my talk in advance of toasting my mother on her 100th birthday. Think about it— one hundred years! With the longevity gene coursing through my veins, I have decades left to hone my talents.

The problem is, I’m impatient. I want to get it right—NOW! I have dreams of making a living as a public speaker, taking my show on the road. I see myself as a TED talker—don’t you? My theories of “how fiction really works” inform the mystery of the meaning of life. TED would eat it up, don’t you think? I see book tours, radio interviews, David Letterman, Jon Stewart…

On the other hand, who needs the pressure? How easily I forget that I’m an introvert at heart.

Having said that, I realize I should develop the extrovert within me, because, you know, balance in all things, yin-yang, yada, yada, yada.

Having just said that, it occurs to me that once I’ve become a paragon of equanimity, I won’t care if I master public speaking or not. On the other hand (all these many hands are making me dizzy) once I’m speaking from my “centre,” anything I say will be meaningful. You know how some people can read the telephone book with such meaning and passion it makes you want to cry.

I’m trying too hard, that’s my problem—trying too hard to get it right instead of being vulnerable and real and in the moment. In fact, that’s the “something new” I keep relearning at Morningstars week after week. You’d think I’d learn.

Now I feel terrible for boring you with this neurotic confession. You must be wondering how I manage my debilitating indecision. As we wound our way home after last Wednesday’s meeting, Greg Lewis was wondering the same thing.

“PJ, why are you wearing just one glove?” Greg asked.

“Well, Greg,” I replied, “the weatherman said the clouds were going to clear… and on the other hand, it might rain.”