Speech 1: The Ice Breaker. The first speech of the Toastmasters Competent Communicator program is about introducing myself to the group, providing a benchmark for my current skill level, and standing and speaking without vomiting or passing out.
Mr/Madam Toastmaster, fellow members, and guests.
I’ve spent most of my life fighting with the voices in my head. Just the one voice, really. The one that tells me I’m not good enough, that no one likes me, that I am unworthy.
As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, I’m used to this voice. It’s been in my head since the beginning. In elementary school, if we were running behind in the morning, I’d sob all the way to school, petrified by the thought of walking into class late.
I still think about the conversation I had with someone in high school, 16 years ago, that might — might — have been interpreted as something embarrassing.
My anxiety has always been the worst at night, when I’m kept awake by whispers: I should have… I need to… Why didn’t I… What if I… Why did I… When I’m going through an especially bad spell, the thoughts tumble through my head like a hamster on a wheel, keeping me from focusing on anything for more than a few seconds.
Over the years I’ve learned to fight these words with, ironically, more words.
I started when I was small. The family legend is that I was a holy terror until I learned how to read. My mother thinks I was just bored out of my tiny skull and reading finally gave me a way to entertain myself. But I think I used it as a way to self-soothe. Reading has always brought me a sense of peace and focus. It’s nice being in someone else’s head for a change.
My favorite book has always been Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now there’s an author that wielded words like swords. “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
I love words so much that in eighth grade I started keeping what’s called a Commonplace book, a collection of my favorite quotes from books, movies, and poetry. It’s one of the things I would save if my house was on fire.
I inherited the bookworm gene from my mother; my love of music comes from my entire family.
I didn’t show promise at first. When I was about six, I sang a little song at the church my grandfather pastored. It was not, I’m told, a captivating performance. On the way home that afternoon, Granddaddy looked at Grandmother, shook his head, and said, “She’ll never be a singer.”
After participating in choirs for almost 16 years, I’m proud to say I proved him wrong.
It was my college choir director who taught me that the words of the music we sang were just as important as the notes. You can sing a piece note-perfect, but if you don’t understand the words and let their meaning fill you up and pour from your body through your expressions, you’re wasting your audience’s time.
When I graduated from college, I was terrified I’d never sing again, never have a chance to connect with others through words. And then I found Sacred Harp.
Some people will tell you that the name “Sacred Harp” refers to the hymn book we sing from; others say that it means the human voice. The only thing I knew when I discovered it is that the words I heard shook me to my core. The notes rattled through my bones, and the words etched themselves on my heart.
These words were written hundreds of years ago by people who faced war, sickness, and loss. They needed these words to remind them that there was a heaven beyond our world. That they were worthy of going there.
“There then to Thee Thine own I leave,
Mold as Thou wilt my passive clay;
But let me all Thy stamp receive,
But let me all Thy words obey.
Serve with a single heart and eye,
And to Thy glory live or die.”
Looking back, this music has always been with me. Lately I was re-reading Little House on the Prairie, and realized some of the music she quotes is from Sacred Harp tunes. When I told my grandmother about Sacred Harp, she dug through a closet and pulled out a 1907 copy of one of the song books — it belonged to my great-grandparents.
This music has become so important a part of me that I’m planning to get a tattoo of one of the lyrics: “my spirit loudly sings.”
I need these words — from books and music — to help me combat the voice in my head. To remind me that I am good enough, that I am loved, and that I am worthy.