Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video Speaking at special occasions, part of Communication Tips.
- Your best friend is getting married and you're expected to give a toast. Your employee is receiving an award and you have to make a speech. Don't cringe. Special occasion speeches can be cherished and fun for your audience and the person you're honoring, but they can also go terribly wrong. I started focusing on special occasion speeches after Tatiana and I were invited to present a workshop called, "The Inspirational Communicator" to a Fortune 500 company.
We had spent the entire day teaching leaders of this organization to present information in a way that would capture the hearts of their listeners. We closed our presentation and we are in the back of the room, getting ready to leave. The next speaker came up. He was an executive who had just arrived in time to present an award to someone in the room. "How perfect," we thought. "This will be an excellent illustration "of the inspirational speaking "we've been talking about all day." Oh, were we ever wrong.
The speaker stood behind a podium, hands glued to the sides of the lectern, eyes locked onto a piece of paper, and his inspiring comments sounded as though he were simply reading the honoree's resume for over 15 minutes. Only two minutes in and I could see the audience checking their phones and yawning. This is not what that employee or that audience deserved. You hear in this story many of the "do not's" when it comes to these types of presentations.
Don't be completely dependent on notes. Don't share boring content. Don't read long lists of facts. Don't speak for very long. Instead, try these tips for making the most of special occasion presentations. Keep it brief. One to two minutes for a toast or introduction is good. Three to five minutes for a eulogy or an award is right on target. Much more than six minutes and you're pushing it.
Talk to friends, family, and coworkers of the honoree before the presentation to find heartwarming and fun, but not embarrassing, anecdotes about the person. At a recent funeral I heard a great story about the departed, Ralph. Ralph had gone to the mall one day to buy vacuum sweeper bags, but came home with a new car instead. The story was a great way to capture the fun-loving, spontaneous nature of this wonderful man.
When talking about accomplishments, share both what people accomplished and how they accomplished it. Imagine giving a sales award. The "what" is, "John sold 100 units this month." Okay, that's nice, but how did he do it? This is where your presentation gets interesting. Did John make 400 cold calls? Did he have lunch with 50 clients, which meant that some days he ate lunch three times? You could even make a lighthearted comment here about how he alone could keep local restaurants in business.
Keep the focus on the person you are honoring. Too many wedding toasts have bombed because the best man or maid of honor focuses on the crazy adventures they've had with the bride or groom. Don't emphasize your personal relationship when the wedding day is about the new couple's relationship. Tell fun stories about them. Finally, be prepared for more emotion to well up inside you than you might have expected.
Especially at funerals, when you begin to speak in front of others who haven't heard your stories yet, or who might be crying themselves, it can be really challenging to stay composed. Rehearse in front of others first. Allow yourself to take time to breath mid speech and don't worry too much if you do shed a tear or two. Special occasions are meant to be emotional. Keep these do's and dont's in mind next time you're asked to make a special occasion presentation, and you'll be great.
But more importantly, you'll make your honoree and your listeners feel great.
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