Speaking Practice #1: Start as You Mean to Go On

I gave my first speech at Toastmasters today.

Posting here at UT will probably be limited to speech-topics and/or the speeches themselves while I push through this speaking track. (There are 10 speeches in the first book, and my goal is to do one/week as long as the children are still in school.)

Part of what I find interesting about this start is comparing it to the first time I gave an “Icebreaker” speech.

It was literally my first blog post, almost 7 years ago. It had three precise points, and a reasonable structure. This one dismisses the possibility from the very beginning.

I started blogging at the same time I (tried) to start speaking, and blogging is what stuck. Instead of wondering what to get up and say, I made notes, some of them incredibly short, of complete thoughts.

I got used to “capturing” ideas. And organizing them (somewhat) and presenting them.

I have my pet-phrases now that I mentally hyperlink back to the entire post I wrote on the subject. I used a couple of them today (to my own enjoyment) and one of the established members urged, “That could be a speech!”

Looking back, my confidence-level blows me away.  I (thoughtlessly) dismissed his suggestion just because I was already comparing the completeness of that post to the organization of half-a dozen others.

Six+ years and 878 posts later, I have a completely different wiring about ideas and presentation.

At one time my writing and speaking voice were very close.

Today, as I put the final touches on my speech and tried it aloud, I was horrified at how stilted and clinical it sounded.

I have loads of material to mine (dozens of essay topics and almost 200 half-finished blog posts, on top of the published stuff), and maybe my writing could stand to lighten up a little, but my speaking, certainly, will have to be different from my current writing.

As a side-note, this is one of the facets of my use of the word Courage: This year is going to be a year of focused growth, some basic boxes that I can check-off that are based on my choices or behaviors, and not on how well circumstances support me.

It’s the reason I re-joined TM, and already (with the awareness that my writing and speaking have diverged) it’s provoking thought and I’m beginning to see the long-standing hole in my writing (a lack of humor) does not exist in my speaking.

If I can bring more of my speaking voice into my writing, that is another bonus waiting to be tacked on.

Speech #1: The Icebreaker
Purpose: Introduce yourself to the group. Show your current level in public speaking. Have a positive experience.
Time: 4-6 minutes
Introduction [the requested intro I was to create and give the MC to read before I went up]:

Amy Jane Helmericks has been married 12 ½ years to a man who is her match. They are the parents of three and caretakers to 30, give-or-take, depending on the season.

She maintains a little farm with chickens, rabbits, and goats, and manages depression through exercise and nutrition.

Her time is filled with the daily tasks of food, clothing and general life-giving, but her head is filled with Story.

Her speech is titled, Start Anywhere.

The purpose of this speech is to introduce myself to this group.
And since my life does not have three tidy points and a conclusion, neither will this speech.

What I will do is begin with a sketch. My image here is of a great circle, touching many points. I could start anywhere, and the nature of the shape will eventually lead you to what else that is true in me.

The first thing you should know about me:

I don’t have a soul.
I am a soul.
I have a body.            [This is a delightful phrase that gets a great reaction– especially if you pause after the first line. My now-self doesn’t see one part (the seen or unseen) as having primacy. They both are equally essential.]

(This body is actually quite demanding, and sometimes I wish I could trade it in for a more compliant one, but health needs led me to learn new things, and I do like to learn, even if I overwhelm myself with it at times.)

The way I like to play is with words.

Since 2006 I have been blogging and noveling both, and on the page I explore ideas and deep feelings.

Story is essential to my life.

Stories train the emotions in ways that no school can keep up with, and can break through human blindness or stubbornness in ways logic or reason never can.

I love the story of the time Truth went begging, naked, from door to door. No one would allow her in, for her nakedness was too horrible to look upon. But when she was clothed in the beautiful robe of Story, she was welcome everywhere.

Walking with my mom, one day, describing a particularly troubling situation, I sputtered, “If I could just find the right story, I could make anybody understand!”

Mom replied, “Well, I guess that’s better than thinking if you had a big enough stick…”

I am not good at engaging in environmental schizophrenia. I am not good at becoming someone else based on the needs of that environment. I hope to be more like a story, myself, and have instead, true parts of me that can connect in each situation.

This is the gift of a broad circle. The individual points may be spread out, but they are all still part of a single shape.

Every writer, and most readers, instinctively understand that every good story is true— It’s just that not all of them have happened.

There is a story from India called, The Flowering Tree. In it, a young woman has the power, with special words and a second person’s help, to transform into a flowering tree. Her first helper is her sister, who carefully climbs the tree and collects the blossoms so the girls can sell them in the market. When the young woman marries a prince, he collects the flowers for their bed.

But when the husband grows careless with her gift, or is so busy avoiding conflict that he won’t help her guard it, she is wounded.

In her tree-form her branches are torn, and the careless returning spell leaves even her human form damaged and unrecognizable.

Her husband must leave his bed of apathy, find her in her brokenness, and repair the gifted part of her— the tree form— before her human self is able to be restored.

This is a stunted, abbreviated retelling, but I hope is still provides an example of my point:

No one here would believe me if I said I used to be able to transform into a flowering tree, but nearly everyone here will understand that our greatest gifts must be both shared and protected.

When they are not, we are broken, and it requires a seeking love to find our disfigured true-selves. To minister healing to our broken gifts, and so restore us.

And it took a seeking love to find and restore me.

I am a Christian. A broken one. There is no other kind.

God’s seeking love has restored me where I didn’t know I could be made whole [close hands to circle]. He has used his people, that is, the Church, and my husband especially.

Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it, because they’re all broken people, too, and have proved themselves able to hurt as well as help.

It is the seeking-love of our humble God that continually draws his people together, making us whole, and better than whole, because we are no longer alone.

5 thoughts on “Speaking Practice #1: Start as You Mean to Go On

  1. Would you want to use the speech bio for Wyn?

    I realized during speech prep what a powerful tool bios could be: by wording my intro right, I cut *at least* a minute off my speech.

    It’s made me think I may craft a slightly different intro for each speech– which I’d like,, as another form of practice. I didn’t like being caught off-guard/under-prepared when I was invited to sing in The Messiah at Christmas.

    I mean, *really*. Shouldn’t a writer be able to whip out a brief bio quicker than that?

  2. I was the girl who found encyclopedias and quote-collections to be real page-turners. I know a lot, but what I didn’t understand was my own limits. In 2010, my margin evaporated, leaving me in a two-year depression of depletion. Lately emerged, I am relearning who I was created to be. I have been married 12 ½ years to a man who is my match. We are the parents of three gifted children born in three-and-a-half years. Now we live outside town and take care of 45 animals a day. My time is filled with the daily tasks of food, clothing, and general life-giving, but my head is filled with Story.

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