Weddings, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Holiday Gatherings and Funerals are all situations in which we may find ourselves needing (or wanting) to give a speech. For many people, this is the first time they are prompted to improve their public speaking skills. For others, it is merely a nail-biting event at which we desperately want to succeed.
Speaking professionals refer to these kinds of talks as “Social Speeches,” or Special Occasion Speeches, to differentiate them from business or political ones. The important distinction is in the name: speeches in this milieu are meant to evoke a particular kind of closeness or connection. Generally if you’re asked to speak at these events, the organizer will be less concerned with your polish and perfection, and more with your delivery of appropriately funny and/or touching anecdotes in a good spirited way.
Whether this is the one and only time you’ll get up in front of people to speak, or just another step in your journey to become a better communicator, there are several key lessons you should observe when planning and executing a social speech.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Yes, social speeches are somewhat lower stress than professional keynotes. They are usually unpaid, often unsupervised, and — because the organizer is not usually an event professional — they are given minimal attention until the big day. Don’t let this lackadaisical and freewheeling environment fool you: to do a great job at public speaking — regardless of the context — you need to practice your heart out. If you use the approach described in the A-Ha! Method, you can save significant time and may find it easier to memorize and nail those points.
You Don’t Have to Be Funny
Film and TV tend to represent these social speeches as comedic moments. But if you don’t have the halcyon delivery of Owen Wilson or the hipster gravitas of Vince Vaughn, you may not be perfectly suited to hitting those jokes repeatedly. This is not to say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be funny, but the suggestion is to know your voice and to embrace it. If you’re more serious, be more serious and heartfelt. If you’ve got a light touch, do that. Either way, you’ll be more successful if you embrace your own POV than trying to fit into someone else’s mold.
Shorter is Better
Most social speeches should be kept under 5 minutes. Just think about the typical wedding: if 6 people/groups need to speak, and each takes 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting there for a solid hour listening to family members and friends drone on. Take a cue from what you would enjoy and keep it to a nice tight 2–3 minutes. The shorter timeframe will help you focus and give you clarity. After all, it’s better to say one thing really well than 5 things poorly.
Grab The A-Ha! Moment
In every social speech there is typically one line: an anecdote, observation, expression of love or broader social issue, that is the memorable moment from the speaker. Much as we do when giving a keynote or conference talk using the A-Ha! Method, our process begins by thinking about those moments of connection with the audience, and then building a talk around it. This emotional high-point is the thing that will have the biggest impact, so it needs to be strong. In most social speeches, there is time for one A-Ha! Moment in the middle, and a strong tag at the end that wraps everything up and brings it together.
Strong Openings and Closings
There is a tendency for most speakers to “fill” time as the stage or mic is being transitioned to them. “Hi everyone, how’s it going?” is a great example, or mentioning the previous speaker(s) to then ease into your speech. It makes the speaker feel better, but increases the time from the switch over until your first point of brilliance is expressed. If you can, take a deep breath and launch directly into your speech without any transitional phrases. The same goes for the end: as you create the last line of the talk, make sure to clearly differentiate between the end of your talk and the start of a toast (for example). Toasts or blessings are not endings, and should be treated as separate from your core talk.
Many professional speakers, when asked to talk about their most important talks, refer to these social speeches. You may spend your life on a keynote stage, traveling around the world — but perhaps the most important memories you’ll make will be much closer to home. So no matter where you are in your journey of improving your communications skills, now’s the right time to lean in.
Here’s a toast to your upcoming social speeches — may you give them and give them well, and may you regale all your family and friends with your stories and talks at your next special occasion event. Cheers!
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