READ: Special Occasion Speeches
1 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.