Archive for August, 2009

From Nought to One Hundred – my Toastmasters Ice Breaker Speech

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I recently joined Toastmasters in order to improve my public speakings skills and I’m enjoying it a lot. I joined Club 59 at Kitsilano Yacht Club. The idea is that I will do 10 speeches over time covering a range of topics and using different skills and then I’ll be a “Competent Communicator”. Then I can go onto more advanced levels if I want. Toastmasters is a tiny bit like a cult but it doesn’t cost much and you meet nice people and improve yourself, so I’m willing to be inducted and become a convert.

How did it go?

Anyway, last Friday I received an email saying that there were some speech slots available on Monday. This felt a bit soon for me to do my Icebreaker but I thought I’d go for it anyway, so I sent off an email before I could change my mind. I prepared my speech over the weekend and did it on Monday night. It went very well and felt good, I wasn’t too nervous. Many people congratulated me on a great Ice Breaker afterwards and the club president said it was the best one he’d seen in a long time! This is certainly encouraging.

How I prepared

I managed to do the speech from memory without any notes and I did it in 5 minutes 55 seconds (I was aiming for 6 minutes). It was all down to the preparation. This is what I did:

– I figured out how many words I read aloud per minute. That’s about 150 words.

– I worked out that 6 minutes is about 900 words.

– I thought up a theme and carefully crafted an intro and an outro in MS Word.

– I filled in the middle bit with details of my past split into several sections. These sections acted as natural pauses in the speech and people commented that my pauses were very good, so it must have worked.

– I read it aloud several times and timed myself.

– It was taking longer than 6 minutes so I edited the text to remove some less critical sentences.

– I read it aloud some more and got the time to about 5 mins 50 seconds.

– I made an outline of the speech with bullet points for the details and practised it some more just looking at that.

– I made a list of just the section headers and practised just from that.

– Finally I practised with no list.

– Some important bits I repeated over and over to drum the correct words and delivery technique into my head.

– Most of the time I practised standing up so that I could move around and wave my hands (I actually did an Aikido move at one point during the speech followed by a block and punch and then some other similar stuff).

– I wanted to show Helen to get her feedback but she was really ill all weekend, so I asked my colleagues at work to be a dummy audience but only one volunteered. Anyway, it was good to practice in front of at least one person before I did it for real.

– I arrived at toastmasters early and made sure that I spoke to as many people as possible so that they were familiar to me and not scary later on when they were in the audience.

– When I did my speech I made sure to speak slowly and carefully, to breathe and project my voice, and to look at different audience members. Also I moved around the stage and used my arms to accentuate points.

– Oh and of course before I got there I visualised myself doing a great speech, feeling confident, and everyone saying it was good afterwards. This step is probably more important that all the others! But solid preparation certainly helped a lot.

Although I haven’t done many speeches before I guess I had a slight advantage over most noobs because of my 8 years of Aikido teaching (although that’s to a very familiar class and more physical than about speeches), and multiple years of computer system sales before that – it all helps to combat nerves.

So without further ado, here’s a transcript of my speech (my actual words varied a bit on the day as my memory is not perfect and I wanted to speak naturally instead of repeating verbatim). Of course, you had to be there to really appreciate it 😉 Enjoy!

My Ice Breaker Speech

Monday 24th August 2009

Title: From Nought to One Hundred.

Thank you Mr/Madam Toastmaster.
Good evening Mr/Madam Chair, fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests.


Someone once asked me “If I take up a martial art, what is the percentage chance that I’ll reach black belt?”. And I said: Well here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter what the average percentage chance is. What matters is if YOU want to be a black belt enough then you’ll be one, and if you don’t want it enough, then you’ll never be one. The percentage chance for you is simply 100 or zero.

I turns out that for me… [pull out my black belt from my back pocket and hold up] … it was 100 percent.

I earned this black belt in 2002 for Aikido and I gained my 2nd dan (that’s a higher level of black belt) last year.

Tonight I’m going to tell you a bit about myself including why I took up Aikido and how I ended up here.

[put black belt back down on lectern]

Living in England:

Like most people in Vancouver I wasn’t born here. If my accent hasn’t already given it away by now, I’m from England.

I grew up in the countryside in the county of Dorset, which on the South coast. It’s a beautiful area steeped in ancient Roman and Celtic history.

My hometown is called Bridport. It’s a small town near the sea and I lived there happily for most of my life.

My First Computer:

My family moved to Bridport when I was 8 years old and that is when I got my first computer. In those days computers came with a BASIC programming manual and because games cost money I learnt to program them instead for fun. I continued programming games as a hobby for the next 22 years until it became my full-time job, but more on that in a moment.


In my early 20s I was developing business software in the day and playing computer games all night long. One day I came to the realisation that I needed to do some exercise or I was going to get pretty unhealthy due to my sedentary lifestyle.

Then a friend told me about an Aikido class that had started up at the local leisure centre. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that involves blending with an attackers’ energy to use against them instead of blocking and then punching or kicking back like most other martial arts.

I found the first class to be very intriguing and I was relieved that there was no smashing of bricks with my head or thrusting my hands into a bucket of hot coals.

Aikido encourages a positive attitude and we learn perseverance and endurance in a supportive atmosphere. During lessons we also mediate and do deep breathing to tune into Universal energy (more on that in a future speech!)

When my teacher moved on I was honoured to become the teacher and I’ve taught children and adults for the last 8 years.

Business Software to Game Developer:

As I mentioned earlier my day job was developing business software. Specifically it was stock control, accounting and reporting systems for bookshops. Sounds pretty thrilling doesn’t it?

Well anyway, eventually I became the manager of the company and the software became very successful. However, I was aware that I was making the owner of the company big money whilst working myself into the ground. Does that sound familiar to anyone here?

So I decided to follow my passion and set up my own company and make computer games for a living. I quit my job without any real plan or savings but with a belief in myself and my abilities and with a determination to succeed. I somehow *knew* that I could make it work – that it was going to be 100% chance of success for me.

Moving to Vancouver:

And to cut a long story short, it did work. I made 6 commercial games and then Big Fish Games in Seattle offered me a job in a new studio that was opening in Vancouver.

I had to think very carefully about their offer because I have a family with two boys aged 8 and 5, and it would mean completely uprooting and moving to a different continent, which I’m sure some of you may be familiar with.

However, we thought that it was a great opportunity for us all to gain experience and have fun, so we moved here last November and we’ve been loving it, especially this awesome summer!

Future Aims:

Over the years I’ve got more and more into personal development and so joining Toastmasters was a natural progression for me especially because I want to begin teaching personal development soon. I believe that communicating clearly is extremely important in personal, social and business situations and I look forward to becoming a Competent Communicator with your help.


So I hope that I’ve demonstrated today that to go from zero to 100 you need to really want to achieve something and really believe that you can do it. Then you can take dedicated action towards that goal and succeed. Go for it!

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

A good friend of mine just wrote me letter and he was telling me about the various growth-oriented things he was doing (hobby, business, family) and that he felt overwhelmed with everything and was wondering why he was doing all that stuff. Interestingly he felt a bit better towards the end of the letter just through the act of writing about it because he was able to clearly express and share his worries instead of them being a nebulous floating bad feeling in his mind (and no doubt a horrible physical feeling in his abdomen).

Lesson: Write stuff down, get it out of your mind whether it’s current tasks, future goals or fears. Don’t dwell on it.

Offer to you: tell me your worries in the comments (or email me if you want to) and see if it makes you feel better.

Anyway, I replied to him as follows:

So I hear that you are feeling overwhelmed by your new hobby, your new business venture, and your responsibilities as a parent and husband. Well that is understandable and OK to feel that way. In fact it’s GOOD. Do you know why? Because I was reading something a while back that said as we GROW we push the boundaries of our comfort zones, and we have to grow our comfort zones in order to be able to DO MORE and EARN MORE otherwise we would stay in the same (crappy) place.

So what happens when you grow is that your OLD mind tries to drag you back to where it was because it doesn’t like the change, it wants comfort and to curl up into a ball and do nothing (I experience this from time to time, and felt it Monday last week when it was raining and I was sitting on the toilet before going to work, BUT by the end of the day I had kicked myself into action and felt great about all the things I’m doing). You only experience that feeling of “why am I doing all this stuff?” BECAUSE you have changed and are growing – it’s an indication that you are doing the right thing.

My advice is roll with it; when you feel crappy say “that’s OK, that’s my old mind trying to drag me down, so I must be changing”. Then think about the amazing positive outcomes of all the things you are doing and visualise them. Hopefully you can change your feeling. If not, then go for a walk, connect with nature, listen to some music, read something positive, or get on with one of your projects until your *new* mind takes back over again. I hope this helps!

How to do Ki Breathing

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve been practicing Aikido for 12 years and have learnt many amazing things including Ki Breathing from my Sensei. We often do Ki breathing for a small amount of time in an Aikido lesson but the real benefit comes from doing it everyday or when you are stressed or ill.

Ki breathing involves slowly breathing in and out from your centre (Hara), which is located 2 inches below your naval, whilst imagining a flow of Ki (life energy) entering and exiting your body with your breath. It has an excellent calming effect, especially when combined with a meditation, and helps to keep you healthy or heal you if you are unwell because of the increased flow of Ki (and oxygen) to the whole of your system.

How to do it

– Ideally you should sit in a kneeling posture called Seiza (the front row of black belts in the photo below are sitting in Seiza. That’s me second in from the left at the front.) However, if you have not sat like this very often, it will probably quite painful so you might want to start like that and then swap to cross-legged. Keep practising sitting in Seiza until you build up endurance.

Aikido Class

– You can do Ki breathing sitting in a chair or standing up or even lying down, but you may be more likely to fall asleep if you are lying down 🙂

– Make sure that you are relaxed but not slumping; feel dynamic and alert.

– Ideally you should be in a quiet place so that you can concentrate. However, once you get good at Ki breathing you can do it anywhere with your eyes open such as on a bus if you don’t mind people thinking “what are they doing?”

– Close your eyes and take a big breath in to start.

– Breathe out slowly through your mouth making an “ah” sound, like you’ve just had a sip of a nice cup of tea. Your mouth should be quite wide open and the ah sound should be long and steady. The sound is made so that you know your breath is consistent.

– As you breathe out imagine Ki (energy/life force/spirit) from your centre travelling up your body and exiting your mouth and going onwards and outwards to infinity. Also feel any negative energy, feelings, worries or illness leaving your system.

– When you have finished breathing out lean forward slightly and imagine that you are still breathing out for a few seconds.

– Then close your mouth and breathe in slowly through your nose. The temptation will be to suddenly inhale a lot of air but you need to control your mind and body so that you do it slowly.

– As you breath in imagine Ki from the Universe flowing down into your centre, healing and revitilising every cell in your system and filling you full of positive fresh energy.

– When you have finished breathing in lean back up to the starting position and imagine that you are still breathing in for a few seconds.

– Then repeat at least 10 times. This may take quite a while because ultimately you should be aiming at 45-60 seconds for a complete cycle, but that may take a bit of practice to achieve.

– Always finish with an out breath, just breathe naturally after that. You may want to finish off with a meditation of your choice because you’ll be in a particularly receptive state.

After you have finished the Ki breathing, just slowly become aware of your physical body once again and then slowly open your eyes and become aware of your surroundings. You may feel quite spaced out but you should feel very relaxed, calm, happy and alive!

Ki breathing is a great start to the day, or a great end to the day because it can help you to get the most from your sleep. Also if you need to take a break from work or whatever in the middle of the day, even 5 minutes of Ki breathing can help. Try it out instead of going on Facebook or Youtube (or having a cigarette) next time you want a break. Enjoy! 🙂