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Public Speaking – The Right Words For Special Occasions

HAVING GREAT presentation skills can serve you well in many situations, from pitching new business to addressing a conference to talking to community groups.

But in addition, there are many other occasions that require you to stand up and “say a few words” and be powerful and compelling.

These special occasions include: wedding and anniversary toasts, funeral eulogies, awards ceremonies, acceptance speeches, dedications, and retirement tributes, to name a few.

These little presentation gems will be highly personalized and require a different approach than the straight-up presentation.

The universal guideline is to always adapt your remarks to the audience and the occasion, while coming from your heart.

But here are some guidelines for specific special occasion presentations.

TOASTS

A toast is a salute with raised glasses to a person or persons marking some special event. It calls for brief, warm and personal remarks. “Here’s to Jake and Sarah’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. Their 50 years together is a testimony to their love for each other, for their children and for life. May they have 50 more years together!”

To make it special, you could recite an appropriate quote or poem or related an anecdote. And you want to wish the celebrant(s) good health, much joy, a smooth life, or many more years of good times, as appropriate.

A word of caution. You might want to observe temperance until toast time so over-imbibing does not negatively impact your salute.

AWARDS PRESENTATIONS

If you have the honor of presenting an award or other special honor to someone, the primary focus of your tribute should be on the achievements of the recipient and why he or she is receiving the award. Again, guidelines are to be brief, warm and personal. Your job is to make the recipient look good. So use any stories, anecdotes or other humanizing elements that will help paint a glowing, deserving picture of the beneficiary.

ACCEPTANCE SPEECHES

If you’ve been bestowed with an award or honor, an acceptance speech is usually expected. The purpose here is to thank the organization or people who have honored you. It’s also good form to recognize the people who helped you win it. A good acceptance speech is marked by three traits:

  1. Brevity – Keep it short and sweet.
  2. Humility – This is not the time to brag.
  3. Graciousness – Accept with genuine gratitude.

COMMEMORATIVE SPEECHES

A speech of praise, celebration or inspiration is a commemorative speech. One famous example is Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: “We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Commencement addresses, building dedications, and holiday speeches are some of the examples of commemorative addresses. Their purpose is to inspire the audience, to heighten their admiration or appreciation of the person, place, or occasion. Their success lies primarily in the speaker’s ability to put emotions and thoughts about the occasion into words. The commemorative speaker has a challenge to use language powerfully and evocatively, to invest the occasion with dignity, meaning and emotion.

If you ever have such an opportunity, remember how important it is to come from the heart. Stay away from clichés and trite sentiment. Be dignified, sincere, and genuine.

EULOGIES

These are not easy. To say something fitting, consoling, and inspirational about a person’s life and to do so under emotional stress can be extremely difficult.

Remember how important it is to talk about the person: praise her life and accomplishments, tell stories that reveal wonderful traits about her character, reminisce, share a favorite quote or reading of the deceased’s, admit the pain of your loss and how much you miss her.

Don’t be afraid to relate something humorous – mourners often welcome the chance to enjoy some gentle laughter and ease their grief a little.

A funeral or memorial service is a highly personal occasion, so your remarks will be dictated by how well you knew the deceased and how well-known and beloved she was to those present. The only firm guideline to observe is the old proverb, “Never speak ill of the dead.”

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