Iceberg? Icebreaker!

When working on your first speech, ignore everything else.

Your Attitude towards your First Speech

There are 3 key things to keep in mind about your first speech:

  1. Don't focus on anything in the future until after you've given your icebreaker.

  2. Don't try to cram your entire life story into your icebreaker.

  3. Don't seek extensive mentoring for your icebreaker.

1. Unless you are a hyper-motivated and foolhardy person, you should only focus on your first speech before thinking about any other speeches.

There is a huge difference between someone who has given 1 speech and someone who has given 0 speeches, and that difference is that you realize that speaking isn't going to kill you.

A person who has delivered at least one speech knows that speaking won't kill them.

This is not an exaggeration. While our minds can debate and reason, our bodies cannot. To your body, an icebreaker speech is no different from an angry tiger in front of you. That fear can be paralyzing, and worrying about awards and accolades before you've given even 1 speech is a recipe for disaster.

To get help with the fear of the icebreaker, see Managing your Fear.

After you deliver your first speech, you will develop confidence that you didn't previously have. In the best-case scenario, you will realize that public speaking isn't as scary as it seems and you are more than capable. You will realize that you enjoy it.

2. Please remember that this is not the only speech you're ever going to give in your life.

If things go as they're supposed to, this will be the first speech of many. You don't have to try and give the audience your entire life history in 6 minutes. Those sort of speeches aren't very effective, and don't give people the best shot at understanding who you are.

While we're at it, remember that talking about yourself in your icebreaker is only a tradition in Toastmasters, not a mandate. If you're not comfortable talking about your history, feel free to pick a different topic.

See Methods of Writing below to get some structures for your speech.

3. Try to write your own speech, without too much help from others.

The objectives of the icebreaker are to DISCOVER your natural strengths and areas of improvement. Nobody is expecting a world-class speech from you.

It is important to care about your presentation and to give it your absolute best shot. It is good to experiment and create a new style or inspire everybody in the room. But if chasing those goals paralyzes you and stops you from speaking, then it isn't helping you out.

Instead, write something that you truly believe in at the moment. It'll help your evaluator find your natural strengths and point those out to you. If you get a lot of mentoring, then your evaluator is listening to your mentor's words, not your own.

Remember: In Toastmasters, we understand that it takes courage to stand on the stage. So even if you come and stand silently for 4 minutes, Toastmasters will applaud you, because it takes courage to stand on stage without knowing what to say.

That is the expectation we have of first-time speakers - that they will be quiet the entire time. Anything above that is a bonus.

Methods of Writing

If you choose to talk about yourself, here are three structures you can use for your story.


If you're absolutely intent on giving the audience a whole picture of your life, go in chronological order. Avoid jumping back and forth between time periods.

e.g. "In school, I did X, Y, and Z... In college, I did A, B, and C. College was a very formative experience for me... While I was still in Bangalore for school, I enjoyed spending time in Lalbagh... But when I came into the workforce, Ram called me and put me in a difficult position. Ram was my friend in school. So I called Laxman, who was my professor in college..."

In the above example, introduce Ram in the section where you talk about school, and introduce Professor Laxman when you talk about college. Keep the Lalbagh section with school as well, and reference it later when necessary.

These arrangements help the audience keep track of the things you're talking about, and prevents them becoming confused.


One of my favourite approaches for the icebreaker is HPSI. In fact, this approach is what I used for my own icebreaker in 2016.

I didn't realize this is an approach others can use until 2019, where a different speaker used it, and I was evaluating her.

What is HPSI? History, Principles, Skills, and Interests.

You may have heard the story about a philosophy professor who asked a student if a jar is full. The professor fills rocks in a jar and the students agree it is full. He then adds pebbles to it, and the pebbles fill up the gaps. After the students say it is full now, he adds sand. This mini-story is about setting the priorities of your life right, and you can read it here, if interested.

Similar to that story, a high-level, undetailed history is the first foundation of your life, the rocks, and talking about that gives people a rough idea of the kind of person you might be. They represent your roots and your upbringing.

After your brief history, your principles are the second foundation of your life, the pebbles. They tell people what you believe in, which might be the same as, or the opposite of, your roots.

Your skills come third, acting as the sand. They tell people what you can do, giving them something to respect about you.

Finally, your interests are fourth, and they are the water that the professor could have added in the story but didn't*. Your interests complete the picture of you for the audience, telling people what you care about aside from your skills and work.

*Aside: Does this make me a better professor than the one in the story? You decide.


This is the simplest, and I would argue, the best way to approach the icebreaker. Many, many speeches, even advanced ones, take the structure that we call "Story-Point" - you tell exactly one story, and then you use that story to make one point.

A fable is a story that contains a moral message.

Fables are simple to understand, and therefore make for very effective speeches. In the context of an icebreaker, they work whether or not you are talking about yourself.

If you do choose to talk about yourself, talk about one thing about you (any 1 historical event, principle, skill, or interest), and then near the end of the speech, interpret that one thing. You can interpret it as a lesson you learned, a piece of advice you have for the audience, or even an observation that might not be commonly known.

Basically, the interpretation is telling the audience WHY they should care about the story, and it makes for a powerful and attention-grabbing conclusion.

All the best for your icebreaker!

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