How to do a great a speech at a work event

The prospect of having to speak at an event can be daunting – here are some tips to make sure you win your audience over and give a great speech

This is a contributed article by Paul Carroll of Toastmasters International

For a celebration you’ll need to reach your audience’s emotions and you can’t do this by sharing your data analysis! For public speaking you need what is called ‘pathos’ – words that will appeal to, and connect with, the emotions of the group you’re speaking to.

Pathos comes from the Greek for ‘experience’ and is found in English words like sym-path-y (sym ‘with’) and em-path-y. (em ‘in’). Sympathy and empathy are what you’re trying to evoke when making an appeal to emotions. Fellow feeling and understanding based on trying to see someone else’s perspective are how we reach the heart.

How can you ‘say a few words’ and bring people together at an event?

Start with your outline

In any speech for an occasion, your easy prep guide is:

  • Your association with the event (setting the tone of the occasion and why you’re speaking in the first place).
  • Three points on the importance of the event – the first point may be serious or reflective, but at least the last one point should be a humorous or light-hearted anecdote
  • Finish with a toast which summarises the event.

Shared experiences

Shared experience is the basis of bonding.  If you’re called upon to say a few words at a celebratory work event, it’s not the time for the heavy emotional experiences or ‘I-climbed-the-metaphorical-mountain’ inspiration. You can remind your audience of a metaphorical-mountain you all climbed together, but I recommend focusing on the fun, shared experiences – this because one of the oft-overlooked aspects of pathos is humour.

Fun and humour

Of course, what’s funny to a group who experienced it might not seem so rib-tickling to anyone outside the group; as they say when a funny line fails to draw laughter, ‘You had to be there’. This may be a cliché but, for speakers reaching out to an audience, it’s very true.

You can test my theory. Tell a group of friends from outside your workplace the funniest incident you can recall happening at work, or, tell a group of (non-fishing) colleagues something hilarious that happened on an expedition with your fishing buddies. The lack of common experience will mean they won’t see the humour, even though it’s obvious to you.

Speaking off the cuff

It may sound strange, but if you’re going to a company event – particularly a year-end party – it’s a good time to prepare what to say whether or not you’re not called upon to speak.  You might just offer a toast of your own to a half dozen people around you.

Yes – you can prepare to speak impromptu! Reflect on events and try to recall something outstanding. Remember, you can bring your own point of view; if someone else brings in the same event as you plan to do, you can talk about it from your perspective. How did the people closest to you work through it? Your audience will then share in a broader, richer retelling

Edit for impact

TV shows about doctors, lawyers, police etc. don’t show the routine elements of the job. Was there ever an entire episode of Suits where a paralegal sat at a table covered in documents and looked through them trying to find important points? For the whole hour? No – you just see the ‘Aha! Got it!’ moments. My point is that you must use a bit of shorthand and cut events down to a few key elements.

It’s all about feelings

Particularly when the occasion is celebratory, feelings matter, and you want to touch people’s hearts. By using the humour and stories about shared experience—pathos—then, while you’re sharing your ‘few words’ you’ll sense the bonding. They’ll be one tribe!

So, the next time you have to speak an event, remember these tips and you should be ready to go!

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