The season for presents, Christmas parties, and spontaneous speeches.
A couple of years ago my parents and I headed off to Dublin for Christmas lunch at my sister’s place, together with about a dozen in-laws.
What we didn’t know was that the in-laws had an old family tradition where one of the sons would make a witty and scintillating speech after lunch. Something he would spend three months preparing, for just the right combination of … well, witty and scintillating.
This time, however, he thought it would be a great idea for me to make a speech too. After all, part of my job was to speak at events, so clearly, I wouldn’t mind just being spontaneous.
But did he tell me in advance? Heck no. Where’s the fun in that?
He gave me notice of, oh, the time to eat the meal.
For those of you who know me well (and you probably have a bit of an idea reading my blogs) you will know that I like to prepare … like LOTS. A three-minute elevator pitch will take me three hours of rehearsal – and that doesn’t include the time to prep the content of the three minutes.
On top of that – I am quite competitive – sad as that might sound – so the thought of being shown up by the brother of my brother- in-law by having a less than witty and scintillating thing to say was a big no no too.
Finally, when I am not prepared, I ramble – like all over the place. The time delay between my mouth being activated and my brain realising what I am actually saying means that before my brain can engage, I am talking absolute rubbish.
So, all in all, I can confirm: the idea of having to improvise is my idea of HELL.
And I figure – maybe it’s the same for you…
SO, here are three things to think about if you are asked to make that spontaneous speech at your Christmas party, be it with your team or at home with your family:
1. Is it really going to be a surprise, to be asked to speak?
Let’s face it, there are going to be occasions where someone is likely to call upon you to speak, with very little notice. But you can anticipate that it happens.
At the Christmas party where you are the team leader – or where you organised the Secret Santa – or the family dinner where you just want to say thank you to the chef …. Those are all times when you can anticipate having to say a few words.
It’s more than reasonable for you to take some time to prep the top three points that you might need to say, and keep them close by for the moment when you are asked to speak. Don’t just wait to be asked.
2. Breathe and find a filler
Ok, let’s say this really is spontaneous: you had absolutely no idea that you would be asked to speak. You have five minutes, and you will have to deliver.
First thing: BREATHE. Get some oxygen into that brain of yours, and slow things down a bit. When you slow things down, you give yourself time to think.
Second thing: SMILE. “Smile and the world smiles with you”. Smile, and your brain also thinks you are happy and in control.
Third thing: FIND A FILLER: “Thank you __, for giving me this opportunity to say a few words. It’s true that these last months have been busy, but you know what, I am delighted to be here among you all and take some time to just celebrate Christmas together.”
The idea of such each of these things? Well, they all give you a few seconds to think.
3. Structure is key
If you do nothing else, think about the structure of your quick speech.
You can’t go wrong with:
– A strong start
– A middle
– A strong ending
For your introduction: start strong, perhaps with the filler above. Or a quote you like, a story, or make reference to the fabulous food…
For the middle: a couple of suggestions:
- Tell a story about a particular project, or milestone from the year. If it’s the Christmas party, and you can mention some of the team members, that will really bring things back to your audience.
- The power of three: e.g. three things you love about your mum’s cooking; your three favourite things about Christmas; three lessons learned this year …
- Talk about this past year, where we are today, what’s coming next year
And for the conclusion: you can’t go wrong by saying thank you to some people: your team, the support staff, your mum or sister for cooking for thirty-three people ….
As for my few words that winter’s day in Dublin, in front of my parents, sister, and what felt like half of the town? Ah, it was grand. I spent most of it with my heart in my mouth, butterflies going bonkers. But I breathed into it, calmed the inner critic that was telling me I needed to be perfect, and spoke about family and taking the time to savour moments together. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t intellectual, but it was me. And if you can’t be yourself at Christmas, when can you be?
Have a very Merry Christmas, and a very happy new 2018 full of speaking engagements, and whatever else you can wish for!
Reproduced from an article in Agefi Luxembourg www.agefi.lu in December 2017