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READ: Special Occasion Speeches

Read this book in order to fulfill the requirements for the week.

Site: Mountain Heights Academy OpenCourseWare
Course: Public Speaking Q2 v2015
Book: READ: Special Occasion Speeches
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Date: Friday, 26 January 2018, 10:45 AM

1 After-Dinner Speeches

After-Dinner Speeches

An after-dinner speech is simply a presentation, a thank you, a toast, a recognition, or a humorous address usually given at a banquet or casual dinner setting.

For example, many of you will be graduating, and I anticipate that you will be honored with a special dinner or banquet. You will probably be asked to say a few words. At this point you need to decide if your approach will be serious or humorous. A serious speech might begin, “From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank my family, friends, instructors, for the time and effort they put into assisting me in my education.” The atmosphere in the room is serious, but warm. The humorous speech would include jokes, subtle wit, or a funny anecdote. It might begin with a joke: “What did the humanities graduate say to the engineering graduate?. . . Would you like fries with that?”

Due to the casual atmosphere, after-dinner speeches can be lighthearted. Visualize the wonderful setting. Everyone has eaten a delicious meal. Your audience seems very content and, at this point, they are sitting back and waiting for the next event. Now your audience is there and available for your presentation. They’re relaxed, they’re not in a hurry to get home, and they are happy to be there. What a great opportunity for you to gain confidence in your public speaking skills.

Remember to adapt your topic to your audience. You need to look at who is in attendance. Are they parents? Are they students? Are they business colleagues? You wouldn’t want to fill your speech with personal jokes and innuendos that only your close business associates would understand if your audience was filled with partners and guests of your associates. It is rude to have a hidden agenda that might make the audience feel lost and not connected. Look closely at your topic and decide if it is suitable for all age groups, if it is positive, if it can change lives, or if it can entertain. If you are thanking your audience for their support, it is very important that your words are heartfelt. At this point, all ego should be set aside. You should now be your higher self in acknowledging and thanking others for sharing in this wonderful event.

Without a manuscript, there is a danger that you could ramble. It is important that you are prepared with at least the five bullets. It takes a very articulate person to do impromptu. The ability to pull off a good impromptu speech comes from having many experiences of being asked to say a few words on the spot. So I recommend that you prepare your remarks ahead of time, remain brief, and stick to the point. It is boring to your audience when they hear “thank you’s” to fifty people. Think about the academy awards for a minute. (“I would like to thank my family, my kindergarten teacher, my editor, my publicist, my agent, my mother who couldn’t be here tonight . . .”) So how do you decide what to say? You need to understand the boundaries of what is appropriate given the length of time you have to work with. Instead of thanking each individual family member, maybe you could focus on one or two individuals. It would be the same for your instructors. You may want to mention one or two professors who have made a difference, and at that time you can mention some experiences that you had together.

It is very important that you have a closure statement in mind, such as, “I couldn’t have done it without having grit and determination.” Instead of repeating the gist or content of the speech again, get to your closure statement and as soon as you say it, sit down. The audience will feel comfortable, and you will have left them with words of wisdom as to why you are successful or how this all happened or how they, too, can be successful.

Here is an example of an after-dinner/acceptance speech. This speech was given by an unnamed student and quoted by Clella Jaffe in the book, Public Speaking: A Cultural Perspective.

Thank you, Professor Geffner, for those kind words, and thank you, committee, for selecting me as the Outstanding Speech and Hearing Student of the year. As you know, there are many other students who are deserving of honor for their scholarship and their service to the clients in our speech clinic, and I know that each one deserves to receive recognition.

Of course, no student can accomplish anything were it not for the support of a dedicated faculty—and the faculty we have here at St. John’s University has been outstanding. I have been impressed, not only with their academic credentials, but also with the personal interest each one takes in the lives of each student who majors in Speech Pathology and Audiology. Thanks also to my parents who supported me both financially and emotionally through these past four years. I appreciate you all.

Next year I will be attending graduate school at Northwestern University. I’m sure that, when I’m homesick for New York, I will remember this honor and be inspired by your confidence in me. Thank you once again.

2 Tributes


The different types of tribute speeches include eulogies, anniversary addresses, and dedicatory speeches. If you are delivering a eulogy, make sure your content is appropriate for the occasion. When speaking at a funeral, you must be very respectful. The purpose of a eulogy is to summarize the important events and contributions in a person’s life. As you collect your background material and write your speech, you should keep the facts in chronological order and be as thorough as possible.

If you are skipping from birth to a marriage, you are leaving out a lot of time in between, where important events undoubtedly took place. If the person’s death was tragic, it is very important that you express grief and reverence for that individual and that there is a cadence in your voice. Your style of presentation is nearly as important as your content in showing the family of the deceased your respect for that loved one. If the person who has just passed away was eighty-seven and had lived a full life, then there is more room for a light-hearted delivery. But always stay within the guidelines of respect. Use tact and restraint.

The astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger were about excellence instead of perfection. They were dedicated, spontaneous, flexible, and willing to take any opportunity to make the difference in the space program, even though they faced many dangers and ultimately were involved in our nation’s worst space disaster. I know you will enjoy reading a tribute to the Challenger astronauts delivered by Ronald Reagan.

3 Example of Tribute Speech

Tribute to the Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger

by Ronald Reagan

We come together to mourn the loss of seven brave Americans, to share the grief that we all feel, and perhaps in that sharing, to find the strength to bear our sorrow and the courage to look for the seeds of hope.

Our nation’s loss is first a profound personal loss to the family and the friends and the loved ones of our shuttle astronauts. To those they left behind—the mothers, the fathers, the husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, yes, and especially the children—all of America stands beside you in your time of sorrow.

What we say today is only an inadequate expression of what we carry in our hearts. Words pale in the shadow of grief; they seem insufficient even to measure the brave sacrifice of those you loved and we so admired. Their truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they led their lives and in the way they lost their lives—with dedication, honor, and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful universe.

The best we can do is remember our seven astronauts, our Challenger Seven, remember them as they live, bringing life and love and joy to those who knew them and pride to a nation.

They came from all parts of this great country— from South Carolina to Washington State; Ohio to Mohawk, New York; Hawaii to North Carolina to Concord, New Hampshire. They were so different; yet in their mission, their quest, they held so much in common.

We remember Dick Scobee, the commander who spoke the last words we heard from the space shuttle Challenger. He served as a fighter pilot of advanced aircraft before joining the space program. Danger was a familiar companion to Commander Scobee.

We remember Michael Smith, who earned enough medals as a combat pilot to cover his chest, including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star in gratitude from a nation he fought to keep free.

We remember Judith Resnik, known as J. R. to her friends, always smiling, always eager to make a contribution, finding beauty in the music she played on her piano in her off-hours.

We remember Ellison Onizuka, who as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii dreamed of someday traveling to the Moon. Being an Eagle Scout, he said, had helped him soar to the impressive achievements of his career.

We remember Ronald McNair, who said that he learned perseverance in the cotton fields of South Carolina. His dream was to live aboard the space station, performing experiments and playing his saxophone in the weightlessness of space. Well, Ron, we will build your space station.

We remember Christa McAuliffe, who captured the imagination of the entire nation; inspiring us with her pluck, her restless spirit of discovery; a teacher, not just to her students, but to an entire people, instilling us all with the excitement of this journey we ride into the future.

We will always remember them, these skilled professionals, scientists, and adventurers, these artists and teachers and family men and women; and we will cherish each of their stories, stories of triumph and bravery, stories of true American heroes.

On the day of the disaster, our nation held a vigil by our television sets. In one cruel moment our exhilaration turned to horror; we waited and watched and tried to make sense of what we had seen. That night I listened to a call-in program on the radio; people of every age spoke of their sadness and the pride they felt in our astronauts. Across America we are reaching out, holding hands, and finding comfort in one another.

The sacrifice of our loved ones has stirred the soul of our nation and through the pain our hearts have been opened to a profound truth: The future is not free; the story of all human progress is one of a struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last, best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was expected or required, and who gave little thought to worldly reward.

We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, the sturdy souls who took their families and their belongings and set out into the frontier of the American West. Often they met with terrible hardship. Along the Oregon Trail, you could still see the grave markers of those who fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.

Today the frontier is space and the boundaries of human knowledge. Sometimes when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character, and fortitude, that we’re still blessed with heroes like those of the space shuttle Challenger.

Dick Scobee knew that every launching of a space shuttle is a technological miracle. And he said, “If something ever does go wrong, I hope that doesn’t mean the end to the space shuttle program.” Every family member I talked to asked specifically that we continue the program; that is what their departed loved one would want above all else. We will not disappoint them.

Today we promise Dick Scobee and his crew that their dream lives on, that the future they worked so hard to build will become reality. The dedicated men and women of NASA have lost seven members of their family. Still, they, too, must forge ahead with a space program that is effective, safe, and efficient, but bold and committed.

Man will continue his conquest of space. To reach out for new goals and ever-greater achievements—that is the way we shall commemorate our sevenChallenger heroes.

Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg, and Christa—your families and your country mourn your passing. We bid you goodbye; we will never forget you. For those who knew you well and loved you, the pain will be deep and enduring. A nation, too, will long feel the loss of her seven sons and daughters, her seven good friends. We can find consolation only in faith, for we know in our hearts that you who flew so high and so proud now make your home beyond the stars, safe in God’s promise of eternal life.

May God bless you all and give you comfort in this difficult time.


"Remarks at the Memorial Service for the Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger in Houston, Texas"( January 31, 1986.

4 Other Tribute Speeches

Other Tribute Speeches

An anniversary speech is given to celebrate an occasion such as a wedding, class reunion, or a personal event or accomplishment. It would be appropriate, for example, to give a tribute speech at the commemoration of a colleague’s twenty years of service or at another colleague’s retirement party.

Dedicatory speeches are given at a gravesite or at the site of a new building or monument. Again, select the appropriate language for the occasion and for the audience. For most dedicatory speeches, you must also do some research before you start talking about the event. Knowing the dates involved, the people responsible, the donors, and all of the background facts will enable you to contribute meaningful remarks to the event.

Perhaps the most famous of all dedicatory speeches is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or to detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Isn’t the Gettysburg Address wonderful? Even though the occasion was the dedication of a national cemetery. It's great how Abraham Lincoln used the important lesson of the personal and human approach to his audience.

Spend some time selecting your special occasion topic. Try to visualize where you will be speaking, who the audience will be, and how you can make a difference.