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17.2: Understanding Special Occasion Speeches

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    Often the speaking opportunities life brings our way has nothing to do with specifically informing or persuading an audience; instead, we are commonly asked to speak during special occasions in our lives. Whether you are standing up to give a speech at an awards ceremony or a toast at a wedding, knowing how to deliver speeches in a variety of different contexts is the nature of special occasion speaking. 

    In broad terms, a special occasion speech addresses the context of the event and the audience’s emotions on a specific occasion. Like informative or persuasive speeches, special occasion speeches should communicate a clear message, but the manner of speaking used is typically different. The word “special” in the term “special occasion speeches” is somewhat subjective in that while some speaking engagements truly are special (e.g., a toast at a wedding, an acceptance speech at an awards banquet, a eulogy for a loved one), they can also be given at more mundane events, such as the public relations speeches given by CEOs from big companies give every day. The goal is to stir an audience’s emotions and make them feel a certain way in response to the situation or occasion.

    To help us think through how to be effective in delivering special occasion speeches, let’s look at four key ingredients: preparation, adaptation to the occasion, adaptation to the audience, and mindfulness about the time.

    Be Prepared

    First, and foremost, the biggest mistake you can make is to be under-prepared or simply not prepare at all. We’ve stressed the need for preparation throughout this text, so just because you’re giving a wedding toast or a eulogy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think through the speech before you stand up and speak out. If the situation is impromptu, even jotting some basic notes on a napkin is better than not having any plan for what you are going to say.

    Adapt to the Occasion

    Not all content is appropriate for all occasions. Remember that being a competent speaker is about being both personally effective and socially appropriate. If you are asked to deliver a speech commemorating an event make sure that you understand the purpose of the event and its formality, some decisions about adapting to the occasion are not obvious. Consider the following examples:

    • You are the maid of honor giving a toast at the wedding of your younger sister.
    • You are receiving a Most Valuable Player award in your favorite sport.
    • You are a sales representative speaking to a group of clients after a mistake has been discovered.
    • You are a cancer survivor speaking at a high school student assembly.
    • You are giving an after-dinner speech to the members of your fraternity.

    How might you adapt your message and speaking style to successfully convey your message to these various audiences?

    Different occasions will call for different levels of social appropriateness. One of the biggest mistakes entertaining speakers can make is to deliver one generic speech to different groups without adapting the speech to the specific occasion. In fact, professional speakers always make sure that their speeches are tailored for different occasions by getting information about the occasion from their hosts. When we tailor speeches for special occasions, people are more likely to remember those speeches than if we give a generic speech.

    Adapt to Your Audience

    Once again, we cannot stress the importance of audience adaptation enough in this text. Different audiences will respond differently to speech material, so the more you know about your audience, the more likely you’ll succeed in your speech. Imagine going to a conference for teachers of public speaking. The keynote speaker stood and delivered a speech on the importance of public speaking. While the speaker was good and funny, the speech really fell flat. The keynote speaker basically told the public speaking teachers that they should take public speaking courses because public speaking is important. Right speech, wrong audience!

    Be Mindful of the Time

    The last major consideration for delivering special occasion speeches successfully is to be mindful of your time. Different speech situations have their own conventions and rules with regard to time. Acceptance speeches and toasts, for example, should be relatively short (typically under two minutes). A speech of introduction should be extremely brief—just long enough to tell the audience what they need to know about the person being introduced in a style that prepares them to appreciate that person’s remarks. In contrast, commencement speeches, eulogies, and speeches to commemorate events can run ten to twenty minutes in length, depending on the context.

    It’s also important to recognize that audiences on different occasions will expect speeches of various lengths. For example, although it’s true that graduation commencement speakers generally speak for ten to twenty minutes, the closer that speaker heads toward twenty minutes the more fidgety the audience becomes. To hold the audience’s attention, a commencement speaker would do well to make the closing minutes of the speech the most engaging and inspiring portion of the speech. If you’re not sure about the expected time frame for a speech, ask the person who has invited you to speak.

    Key Takeaways

    • Entertaining speeches are speeches designed to captivate an audience’s attention and regale or amuse them while delivering a clear message. Speakers engage in entertaining speeches generally at special occasions (e.g., weddings, funerals) or are asked to deliver a keynote address.

    • Entertaining speeches should include four key considerations: preparation, adaptation to the occasion, adaptation to the audience, and mindfulness of the time. As with all speeches, speakers need to prepare the speech. Second, speakers need to think about the specific occasion. Third, speakers need to adapt their speeches to a specific audience. Lastly, speakers need to think about how long they should speak.


    1. Type in the word “roast” into YouTube and watch a few minutes of a roast. Did the speaker clearly exhibit the four clear ingredients of an entertaining speech?
    2. Watch several toasts and acceptance speeches on YouTube. Can you identify specific ways in which each speaker adapts the speech to the occasion and the audience?

    This page titled 17.2: Understanding Special Occasion Speeches is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.