- List three general guidelines for ceremonial speeches.
- Identify strategies for effectively composing and delivering the following ceremonial speeches: speech of introduction, presenting an award, accepting an award, toast, speech of tribute, and eulogy.
- Identify strategies for effectively composing and delivering a “This I Believe” speech.
- Explain the connection between public advocacy and speaking.
Speaking in personal contexts includes elements of all three general purposes we learned earlier. You may inform an audience about an upcoming speaker during a speech of introduction or use humor to entertain during a toast. People are also compelled to speak about issues they care about, which may entail using persuasive strategies to advocate for a person, group, or issue.
Speaking on Special Occasions
Ceremonial speaking refers to speeches of praise, tribute, and celebration that bring audiences together on special occasions. Although most communication classes cover informative and persuasive speaking more than ceremonial speaking, I have had many students tell me after taking the class that the guidelines they learned for speaking on special occasions have been very useful for them. Before we get into specific examples of ceremonial speeches, we’ll discuss three general guidelines for ceremonial speeches: be prepared, be brief, and be occasion focused.
Speakers should always be prepared for a speech, but this can be challenging with special-occasion speaking because it is often unexpected. Even though most special occasions are planned, the speaking that goes on during these events isn’t always as planned. One reason for this lack of preparation is that people often, mistakenly, think they can “wing” a toast, introduction, or acceptance speech. Another reason is that special occasion speeches can “sneak up” on you if the person in charge of the event didn’t plan ahead for the speaking parts of the program and has to ask people to participate at the last minute. More than once, I have been asked to introduce a guest speaker at an event at the last minute. Given these reasons, it should be clear that even though ceremonial speeches are brief and don’t require the research of other speech types, they still require planning, good content, and good delivery.
Special-occasion speeches should always be brief, unless otherwise noted. With only a couple exceptions, these speeches are shorter than other speech types. Special occasions are planned events, and a speaker is just one part of a program. There may be a dinner planned, a special surprise coming up, other people to be honored, or even a limit on how long the group can use the facility. So delivering a long speech on such an occasion will likely create timing problems for the rest of the program.
A special-occasion speech should focus on the occasion. You will almost always be speaking about someone or something else like a group, organization, or event, so don’t make the speech about you. Strategies for effective delivery still apply to special-occasion speeches. Since these occasions are often celebratory, it is important to be enthusiastic or reverent to the tone of the occasion. A toast may be lighthearted and jovial, a eulogy somber, a tribute stirring, or an acceptance speech celebratory. Even when accepting an award, speakers will spend most of their speech talking about others rather than them.
Speech of Introduction
Five minutes after I felt a tap on my shoulder, I was introducing the provost of the university. I didn’t know before the tap that I was going to introduce him, and I didn’t know that much about him. This is just one example of how special-occasion speeches can sneak up on you. Knowing this can help you “expect the unexpected.” As we learned earlier, speaking anxiety increases when there is little time to prepare and practice a speech. Despite the lack of notice and my lack of knowledge about the person I would soon introduce, I drew on my knowledge of special-occasion speaking and made the most out of my five minutes of prep time.
A speech of introduction is a speech in which one speaker briefly introduces an upcoming speaker who is usually the focus of the occasion. Such speeches are usually only one to two minutes long. The first step in preparing a speech of introduction is to get to know the person you’re introducing. If you’ve been asked to introduce someone, you are likely part of the team planning the event or you have a relationship with the person. If you already know the person and have a relationship with them, then this step is easily checked off the preparation list. If you’ve just been asked to introduce the guest because you are involved in the planning of the event, then you have hopefully been asked in advance and can take some time to get to know the person. You can find biographical information about many people online, through their professional or personal websites or social media profiles. The guest may have already sent a bio (a biographical sketch with information about their life and accomplishments) to put in the program. You want to make sure the information is up to date and valid, so it’s good to verify any information found on the Internet or just contact the person directly to ask for a bio. While these are good places to start to get to know the person you will introduce, it’s good to have some personal connection, too. You may want to communicate directly with the person and ask them a couple questions that you think the audience might find interesting but aren’t included in the typical bio. Such direct communication might also allow you to make the introduction more personal, as you can note the lunch, phone call, or e-mail exchanges during your speech. In my situation, since I wasn’t able to get to know the person, I had to rely on the information from the bio included in the program.
During the speech of introduction, make sure to say the person’s name, correctly, several times. It so happened that the person I was introducing unexpectedly had a last name that was difficult for me to pronounce. So, after reviewing the bio and picking out highlights, I confirmed the pronunciation of his name with a couple people at the event who knew how to say it and then spent much of the remainder of my time saying the last name over and over. Mispronouncing someone’s name is embarrassing for the speaker and the audience.
You should also establish the speaker’s credentials and credibility. Do not read the person’s bio to the audience, especially if that bio is already included in the program. Remember, you are engaging in public speaking, not public reading. A bio that you pull from the Internet may also include information and accomplishments that aren’t relevant to the occasion or the speaker’s content. If you were introducing a speaker at a civic organization, it might be more relevant to focus on her community engagement and service rather than her academic accomplishments. Keep in mind the introduction sets up an audience’s expectations for the speaker. You want to share his or her relevant credentials and your personal connection, if there is one, but make sure you don’t “over sell” it, as in the following example: “Marko is one of the smartest and funniest people I have ever met. I have no doubts that he will both enlighten and entertain you with his presentation today!”
A speech of introduction also helps set the tone for the upcoming speaker and establish a relationship between the audience and speaker (Toastmasaters International, 2012). It is important that the tone you set matches with that of the upcoming speaker. Just as a heavy metal warm-up band wouldn’t be a good setup for Celine Deon, a humorous and lighthearted introduction for a speaker with a serious topic would create an inconsistency in tone that could be uncomfortable for the speaker and the audience. By setting the tone, you help establish a relationship between the speaker and the audience. If you’re unsure of the tone or content of the person’s speech, you should contact that speaker or the event planner to find out. You also want to establish your own credibility and goodwill by being prepared in terms of content and delivery and expressing your thanks for being asked to introduce the speaker.
A speech of welcome is similar to a speech of introduction, but instead of introducing an audience to an upcoming speaker, you introduce the audience to upcoming events. If you are asked to deliver a speech of welcome, you’re likely a representative of the group that planned or is hosting the event. Since a welcome speaker is usually the first speaker of the day and the proceeding sessions are timed, this is definitely an occasion where brevity will be appreciated. Getting behind schedule on the first presentation isn’t a good way to start the day. Aside from graciously welcoming the audience, you should also provide key information about upcoming events and acknowledge key participants. In terms of previewing the events, do not read through a program or schedule if it’s something that audience members already have in their possession. You can reference the program, but allow them to read it on their own. You may want to highlight a couple things on the program like a keynote speaker or awards ceremony. Definitely make sure to announce any changes in the schedule so people can plan accordingly. Thank any sponsors, especially if they are in attendance, and acknowledge any VIP guests.
Welcome speakers should also convey logistical information that audience members may need to know, which helps answer questions before the audience needs to ask them. Many people may not be familiar with a facility, so it may be necessary to inform them where the coffee and snacks are, where the restrooms are, or other simple logistics. Welcome speeches are often allotted more time than is needed, but do not feel obligated to fill that time. Audience members will not be upset if you finish early, as they may have some last-minute things to do before the event gets started, and it doesn’t hurt to get a little ahead of schedule, since things will inevitably get behind later on.
For the speeches previously discussed, just as with all speeches, it’s important to know your audience. The nature of ceremonial speaking occasions helps facilitate audience and situational analysis. If you’re asked to speak at such an occasion, you can usually get information from the event planner or coordinator, who should know the expectations for the tone and the general makeup of the audience.
Presenting an Award
If you have a leadership role in an organization, you may end up presenting an employee, a colleague, or a peer with an award. There are several steps in presenting an award, but the main goal of this speech is to enhance the value of the award and honor the person receiving it. As with other special-occasion speeches, it should be focused on the occasion and the particular award. Start by stating the name of the award and providing a brief overview of its purpose. Also share some information about the organization or group that is bestowing the award. Connect the values of the organization with the purpose of the award. You may also want to describe the selection process. If there were many qualified nominees and the decision was difficult to make, then stating that enhances the value of the award. Such statements also recognize others who were nominated but didn’t win.
Once you’ve covered the background of the award and the selection process, you are usually at a good point to announce the winner, since the remaining information is specific to the person being honored with the award. Announce the winner and pause to allow the audience to acknowledge him or her before continuing on with the speech; however, don’t bring the person up until you are ready to hand over the award, as it creates an awkward situation (WestsideToastmasters.com, 2012). Next, share the qualifications of the person receiving the award. This helps explain to the audience why the winner is deserving of the honor. Then connect the winner to the legacy of the award by saying how they are similar to previous winners. For example, “This year’s winner joins a select group of other college seniors who have been recognized for their dedication to community service and outreach.” You can also say what the person adds to the legacy of the award. For example, “Nick helped establish an alternative spring break program that will continue to service communities in need for many years to come.” It can be an honor to present an award, but most of us would like to be on the other side of this speech.
Accepting an Award
Congratulations, you won an award! When you deliver a speech accepting an award, be brief, gracious, and humble. Before you begin speaking, take a moment, pause, smile, and make eye contact with the audience (Fripp, 2012). You may know ahead of time that you’re going to win the award, or you may not. Either way, take time to write out an acceptance speech. Try to memorize most of the content to make the speech look genuine and spontaneous. If you have a lot of people to thank, you may write that information out on a small card to reference, just so you don’t leave anyone out. Make sure to thank the group giving the award and the person who presented you with the award. Also compliment the other nominees, and thank those who helped make your accomplishment possible. In 2002, Halle Berry won an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress, making history as the first African American woman to earn that honor. The acceptance speech she delivered acknowledged the magnitude of the situation, keeping the focus on actresses who came before her and the people who helped her achieve this honor. The video and text of her speech can be accessed in Video Clip 12.1.
Halle Berry’s Oscar Acceptance Speech
Cheers, slainte, skal, prost, and salud! All these words could form the basis for a toast, which is a ceremonial speech that praises or conveys goodwill or blessings in honor of a person, accomplishment, or event.
Toasts are usually the shortest special-occasion speech, which is good since people’s arms get tired if they have to hold their drink up in the air for too long. The degree of preparation needed for a toast varies more than any other special-occasion speech type. Some toasts are practically spontaneous and will therefore have to be impromptu. People can toast an accomplishment, completion of a task, a holiday such as New Year’s Eve, a favorite sports team winning, or the anniversary of a special event. Wedding toasts are more formal and more preparation is needed and expected. Although toasts are generally supposed to be conversational and appear spontaneous, because that makes the content seem more genuine, in situations that are more formal or where there is much at stake, brief notes are OK. You wouldn’t want to see a person giving a toast pull out a stack of note cards, though.
Toasts are definitely a time to include a brief personal anecdote and/or humor, but always make sure to test your story or joke out on someone who knows you and knows the person or people you will be toasting. As I’ve already warned, using humor in a speech can be dangerous, since most people who try to use humor publicly think they are funnier than they actually are. Not having someone else vet your toast material can lead to embarrassment for many people. Aside from having someone review your content, it’s also a good idea to not get too “toasty” before you deliver your toast, or the story or joke that you decided to leave out earlier may find its way back into the speech. Awkward and embarrassing toasts make funny scenes in movies and television shows, but they usually go smoother in real life, especially if you follow the previous advice. You can also spice up your toast by adding a cultural flair. You can see how to say “Cheers!” in many different languages at the following link: http://www.awa.dk/glosary/slainte.htm.
Speech of Tribute
A speech of tribute is a longer and more formal version of a toast that establishes why a person, group, or concept is worthy of praise. Speeches of tribute can honor a group, organization, or concept but usually focus on one person. To effectively pay tribute to someone, introduce the personality of the individual, the values of the group, or the noble history of the event in order to initiate a relationship between the audience and the person, group, or idea that is being honored. Speeches of tribute shouldn’t be biographical sketches. Most people can look up a person’s bio or the history of a group or event quickly using the Internet, so sharing that information doesn’t show that you’ve done any more work than an audience member could do in the five or ten minutes of the speech. People, groups, or events worthy of speeches of tribute have usually accomplished great things and have enriching lessons to share. As a speaker, use a narrative style to convey to the audience a lesson or a “moral of the story.” It’s important to focus on the positive aspects of a person or group’s history; this is not the occasion to offer criticism.
A eulogy is a speech honoring a person who has died. The emotions and grief surrounding the loss of a loved one are difficult to manage and make this one of the most challenging types of speech. However, being asked to deliver a eulogy is an honor. Such speakers are usually chosen because the family and friends of the deceased person see the speaker as someone they can depend on in difficult situations and as someone who can comfort and be an example to others. In the short amount of time you have to prepare a eulogy, usually a day or two, it is important to put time into organizing the speech, just as you would for a professional speech. Create an outline, and structure the speech with an introduction, a body with about three main points, and a conclusion. A eulogy, like a speech of tribute, shouldn’t be a chronological outline of a person’s life or a biographical sketch (Lustig, 2012). As with a speech of tribute, focus on the person’s personality and demonstrate why the person was likable and what he or she added to your life and the lives of others.
Depending on the situation, you may also want to share some of the deceased’s accomplishments. Accomplishments can usually be broken up into three categories, and you may focus on one or more depending on your relationship with the person. Family accomplishments usually entail discussing the loved ones the person is leaving behind or conveying the roles he or she played as a member of his or her family and friendship circles. Professional accomplishments deal with academic and career achievement and would be especially relevant if the person speaking worked with or had a mentoring relationship with the deceased. Community accomplishments include civic engagement, community service, and local involvement. Most people have too many accomplishments to include, so include those that are relevant to your relationship with the deceased and that you think will elicit similar fond memories in others. Focus on the positives of a person’s life, and acknowledge and share in the sorrow of the other people in attendance. Remember, as the person chosen to deliver a eulogy, you set an example and provide comfort to others, which is a difficult but important role to play.