If you’re feeling a sense of dread that you’ve been asked to make a celebratory speech, you’re not alone. Although it’s a big honor to give a speech—whether it’s your best friend’s wedding, your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah or your grandfather’s 90th birthday—it’s still a lot of pressure. One of the biggest stumbling blocks people face is getting started. Whether it’s a struggle with words or getting the creative juices flowing, these tips may be just what you need to begin:
1. Take a trip down memory lane.
One jumping off point is thinking about memorable moments. Look through photos, videos, yearbooks and cards for inspiration. Brainstorm funny stories and meaningful anecdotes with a close friend or family member. Once you’ve taken a trip down memory lane, make a list of the top moments. And then break them up into categories (e.g., sentimental, funny, embarrassing, inappropriate, etc.)
2. Be selective.
When it’s time to hone in on the handful of anecdotes or stories that will make the final cut, remember to pick the ones that everyone in the room will appreciate. It’s tempting to include inside jokes and roast-like material, but tread carefully. Your job is to cast the guest(s) of honor in the most flattering light possible. The memories you share should be representative of the person’s true character. They should also support why you were chosen to give the speech in the first place. So seize the opportunity to choose material that is positive in nature.
3. Don’t be afraid to borrow ideas.
Think back on the wedding and other special occasion speeches and toasts that you enjoyed. Look on sites like YouTube for “best of” speech moments. If there’s an inspirational quote that resonates with you, or is a favorite of the guest(s) of honor, see if you can work it into the speech. The bottom line is that you can tap into other experiences and outside resources that may help inform your writing.
4. Think about structure.
The best speeches are ones that tell a cohesive, compelling story from beginning to end. This means having a strong introduction, an interesting body and an ending that leaves the guests wanting more, not less. While this may sound daunting, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Effective transitions can go a long way in keeping your speech on track. Maybe it’s a repeating phrase or a theme that you thread throughout the speech. Regardless of which direction you pursue, making sure the speech is well-organized is key.
5. Speak it!
Remember that your words will be spoken, not written. How do you sound when you speak? What jargon do you tend to use? What expressions do the guest(s) of honor use? Just like with the memories, make a list of these words and see which ones work with your material. I always say that special occasion speeches should sound like you’re having a polished conversation. And at the end of the day, when you speak from the heart you really can’t go wrong.
Getting started with your speech can often be the hardest part. But with a little extra time and thought, you may be surprised at how easily the words start flowing. Of course, if you’re still frozen at the starting line, some extra word whispering may be in order, in which case, you know where to find me.