Tributes and Celebration Speeches
When asked to deliver a celebration speech or other social occasion, do you say ‘No’?
Or, do you say ‘Yes’ and immediately feel nervous, stressed and not confident?
Whether it is an assembly of adolescents, a black tie dinner, a 21st birthday, a eulogy or the farewell of a retiring colleague, the recipe is the same as for any other speech. Begin with an opening which immediately commands attention, develop the main content (body of the speech) in a logical sequence and conclude with an ending that leaves them laughing, crying or even both. Depending on the occasion, often the purpose of the social speech is to praise, celebrate or remember.
Social speeches are personalised to those being honoured or recognised and tend to be shorter than informative or persuasive speeches.
Types of social speeches
Farewell or retirement
Recognise the purpose of the occasion and personalise your anecdotes to suit. Depending on the setting and tone of the event, you may consider using humorous stories or appropriate quotations to highlight the person’s successes or character. Be respectful and it is best to err on the side of caution rather than offend.
Prepare in advance, if this is possible. This is particularly important if you are speaking about an emotional circumstance or at a meaningful life event such as at a wedding or funeral. By organising your material in advance and practising it, you will feel less anxious and more prepared, and so more likely to deliver a polished well-constructed speech.
Sometimes you are asked to speak at short notice which is more difficult compared to being well prepared. In this case, remember the basics of speech structure and the appropriateness of the occasion.
An introduction should ‘sell’ the speaker to the audience. It should give the facts regarding the speaker and let the audience see why she or he is the right person to address this particular topic.
- Prepare thoroughly
- Know the speaker’s name, title and qualifications. The speaker, ideally, provides this information. If it comes from a third person, check for accuracy with the speaker prior to the event.
- Know the correct title for the speaker’s presentation and something about how the speaker intends to develop the subject. Know why the subject is of special interest to the audience.
- Say the speaker’s name three times so it becomes memorable for the audience.
- Remember to keep it brief, be friendly, enthusiastic, warm and sincere.
- Avoid clichés such as, “It gives me great pleasure to introduce . . .” and “It is a great privilege to introduce to you . . .”
- Finally, close your introduction by saying something such as, “Please welcome . . . “ and lead the welcoming applause.
A speech of presentation acknowledges to the recipient that she or he has succeeded and is deserving of the honour. This speech may be remembered for a lifetime, so meticulous preparation and careful attention to the words is vital.
- Explain why the award is being made. Keep it simple.
- Tell something of the life and activities of the person being honoured.
- Tell how much the award is deserved.
- Congratulate the recipient and convey everyone’s good wishes for the future.
- Don’t over praise or exaggerate as this will make the recipient feel uncomfortable.
- Don’t exaggerate the importance of the gift itself. Stress its intrinsic value and the warm sentiments of those who are giving it.
Celebration speeches are commemorative or ceremonial speeches which pay a tribute as a sign of respect, admiration or praise for a person. Birthdays, anniversaries and weddings are common events for such a speech. These are not only informative, they provide some biographical content. It is important to emphasise the celebration and looking ahead toward the future.
- Prepare well – opening, body of the speech, closing, suitable timing
- Content must be appropriate for the occasion
- Humour can entertain, however ridicule, offending, recalling painful experiences and inappropriate stories for the occasion are not acceptable
- Tell stories considering the audience and the person(s) being celebrated
- Include memories or anecdotes to personalise the speech and make it more meaningful
- Choose the right words to impart your knowledge
- Use props only if appropriate
- Maintain a good pace of delivery so the audience can digest the information
Speech of Acceptance
You may be called to speak when accepting a prize, honour or an award. The opportunity to give an acceptance speech is a privilege. Be prepared in case you are asked to speak, however, rely on spontaneity and warmth that is natural at the time.
If the award or honour is a surprise, it may be more difficult to present a speech. Remember to not only mumble, “Thank you.” Avoid exaggeration and express your heartfelt gratitude in moderate terms.
- Be sincere
- Thank the group, or organisation, if this is the case.
- Give credit to others who have helped you – your associates, employees, family or friends
- Say what the gift means to you. If it is wrapped, open it and display it. Tell how useful or decorative it is and how you intend to use it.
- End with another sincere expression of your gratitude.
Thank you speeches
The words, ‘thank you’ and similar phases express gratitude, humility, understanding and acknowledgement. These words can be said on many occasions.
Thank you for your time, effort and work for . . .
I greatly appreciate you help.
Thank you to everyone on our team for . . .
- Be sincere
- Thank the person or group of people for the act they have done or their contribution.
- End with another sincere expression of your gratitude.
A toast is the honouring of a person(s), an organisation or office at a gathering when people are called to raise their glasses and drink together. It is a tribute or salutation. There are two types of toasts: The Loyal Toast to the Queen or another head of State, and the social or business toast.
A social or business toast is more common and the following guidelines are for these occasions.
- Prior to the event, choose your words carefully.
- Stand in some prominent place and get the people’s attention.
- Make sure that everyone has a full glass. (Remember that not everyone drinks alcohol.) You may wish to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please charge (re-fill) your glasses as I’m going to propose a toast.”
- As you start to speak, hold you own glass in front of you a little above waist level.
- Introduce yourself briefly, if you are not already known by everyone present or been announced by another person
- Say something about why you’ve gathered, and your relationship to the person/s, organisation
- Keep introductory remarks brief — no longer than a minute to a minute and a half. Choose the words appropriate for the occasion.
- If toasting a person/s, have eye contact with those you’re toasting and shift your eyes to the audience occasionally.
- Propose the toast formally:
- Raise your glass to eye level
- Say something similar to “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise (pause to allow people to be up standing and allow the noise of moving to subside) and join me in a toast to …..”
- Say a few words only as this guides / instructs the audience to give the correct response.
- Lead everyone by drinking from your glass.
- The correct response by the audience is to hold their glasses at eye level and repeat the name/s of the honouree/s then drink. Do not clink glasses.
Retirement or Workplace Farewell
These are speeches of praise and show a deep appreciation of the person.
- Emphasise the contribution the person has made to the company or organisation.
- Recall highlights of the person’s career or contribution to the community organisation. Don’t overstretch the story or embark on a long and tedious trip down memory lane. Revive a few memories and some well-chosen anecdotes.
- Be discreet in choosing funny stories and leave out the ones best forgotten.
- End on a good note of cheer, best wishes and a hope to see them in the future.
A eulogy is a speech given at a funeral or a memorial service in memory of the deceased. It is one which shares loving memories and a celebration of the life of the deceased. A speaker can be challenged by dealing with their own grief while communicating in a heartfelt manner. The remembrance of a person provides comfort and closure to others. Embrace the opportunity to speak. It is your gift to yourself and others.
- Prepare your eulogy in detail, considering the purpose you wish to achieve and the tone of your presentation. Do you wish to draw on particular characteristics – sense of humour, generosity, artistic ability, et cetera? Do you want tell their life story?
- Be sincere and respectful
- Share anecdotes from your experience with the deceased.
- Think of the strongest memories of the deceased as a person. Make a list of characteristics which highlight him or her as an individual. Stories will come to mind that help to fill out the portrait of the person.
- As in any other speech, immediately capture the audience’s interest
- If appropriate, remember individuals who supported the deceased at work, in community service, or privately.
- Practise delivering it.
- Don’t make it go on and on and on.
- Conclude with simplicity and sincerity
Remember, the greater your preparation and the more you practise your speech, the more confident you will be on the day of the social event.