My first Toastmasters speech


I gave my first Toastmasters speech tonight, a month after I joined the organization to improve my public speaking skills. I had been wanting to join Toastmasters for a few years, having heard about it from my mom, who was part of a club called “Bachelors and Bachelorettes” many years ago. True to the promise of its name, she even dated someone she met there. When she heard that I had joined a club where I live, the first thing she asked was, “Was it Bachelors and Bachelorettes.” No Mom, I just looked for any club near me — not one specifically for singles (although that might not have been a bad idea). I checked it out on a Monday evening and immediately felt welcome — the people were friendly and supportive. After just a few meetings I had already learned from the other members who gave speeches and from participating in their Table Topics. Here’s the text of the speech I gave tonight. It was an Ice Breaker and my theme was defying stereotypes. It even won me a ribbon!

How would you describe a “gamer,” someone who’s really into video games?
How would you describe a lawyer?
How about an NFL player?
Mr. Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmasters, Most welcome guests. What do these answers have in common? They’re all stereotypes. But why are stereotypes bad? Well, I’m sure we all have felt judged at some time or another. It doesn’t feel good knowing that people are making assumptions about you before getting to know you. But there can also be satisfaction in knowing that you’re not what people think. Today I’m going to tell you three ways I defy the stereotypes that come to mind when people hear that I grew up in Las Vegas, played rugby and was a journalist.
When people hear that I grew up in Las Vegas, the typical response is: “Wow, what was that like?” If I’m feeling playful I’ll say, “Well, my mom was a showgirl, my dad was a dealer and we lived in Caesar’s Palace.” Some people even fall for it.
But usually I say that that despite the image in their mind of a fast-living lifestyle of gambling, booze and drugs, I had an ordinary childhood amid the neon lights. I played soccer, ran cross-country and wrote for my high school newspaper. When you’re under-aged, Vegas is like any other city: boring. On a typical Saturday night, I’d go to the movies or hang out at a friend’s house. One time I did go down to the Strip for a wild night of video scavenger hunt with my cross-country teammates. For some reason I decided to die my hair black that day but as you can imagine, blond hair doesn’t turn black. It just turned gray and a few days later a disgusting green. So there we were a bunch of loud, obnoxious teens – one prematurely gray – running around recording ourselves doing silly things, like jumping in the fountain outside Caesar’s Palace, and I’m sure annoying the adults around us, just like teens anywhere else.
When I got to college I started playing rugby, a sport that most people in America aren’t familiar with. When people hear I played rugby, I get a look of surprise. Aren’t you too small for rugby? Isn’t that dangerous? Is your team co-ed? I tell them, “No, I’m not too small. The beauty of rugby is that there’s a position for every person, no matter their shape or size. The bigger, stronger girls are forwards. The smaller, faster girls are backs.” I, as you may have concluded, was a forward. Just kidding, I was a back. And no, it’s not dangerous — at least not more so than any other contact sport. We don’t wear pads or helmets and there is tackling, but it’s not like football where a player flies at someone else head first. It’s a safe takedown that I compare to a wrestling move. And my team was all female, not co-ed. I may be crazy but I’m not stupid.
After I graduated from college I took my journalism major and got myself a job as a reporter. I quickly discovered that people don’t have the best opinions of journalists. I heard they’re aggressive; they’ll do anything to get the story; they’re biased with an agenda. I admit—I have been a part of a pack of journalists scrambling after someone as they left the courthouse after a hearing. But when you have an editor in your ear telling you to try to get a quote, and the public wants information, well that’s just what you have to do.
But usually, I didn’t have to be aggressive. Usually my job involved walking up to people and asking if I could interview them. Most people said yes because—believe it or not—people like talking about themselves. And the job is fun. I’ve interviewed a cattle rancher, toured a home for retired space chimpanzees and even briefly interviewed Tipper Gore, the wife of Al Gore, during his presidential run. But one of my favorite memories was when I was a lowly editorial assistant for The Associated Press in Phoenix. It was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which you may remember involved President Clinton, a cigar and a certain blue dress. Almost every day my editor would send me across the street to interview people and ask what they thought of the latest news. I’d send my notes to the National desk and hope they’d use them in that day’s story. Most of the time I got pretty boring stuff – I’m so sick of the scandal; I can’t believe the president. But one day I got lucky. It was around Christmas and I walked into an ornament store and interviewed the owner. He was excited to show me these cigar ornaments on which he had written “To Monica, From Bill, with love.” They were selling like hotcakes. Needless to say, the National desk led that day’s story with my quotes and I was pretty excited.
In conclusion, I hope that tonight you’ve learned a little more about me. And that you’re reminded to get to know people and all their complexities instead of making assumptions about them.
The actor Alan Alda gave this advice in a commencement speech to his daughter’s college:
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.

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