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Orations, not aberrations Or: Ten tips for the perfect Christmas speech.

01 Dec 2009

So you need to give a speech at the Christmas party. It’s been a tough year. Redundancies have decimated your workforce. No matter what the economists say, your orders are still down and you can’t help but notice that the belt on the big red guy’s costume remains uncomfortably tight after last year’s adjustments.

A cheerful speech! You’d rather be sitting solo in a corner with a stiff drink. Stop. Change the tape: it’s a Christmas party, not a funeral. This is the time of the year when people want to forget. And it’s your job to help them do that, to cheer them up and make sure they leave with smiles on their faces. So here are my 10 tips to help get you and your audience through the night.

1 Timing is everything.

Make your speech early, then you can relax – and you won’t have to contend with  Mike from marketing who, with a couple or three under his belt, is hellbent on carving out a reputation (at your expense) as the funniest heckler in the place. And do speak before you start to drink. After even just a  couple of glasses of wine your tongue seems to gain weight and no longer fits comfortably in your mouth.

2 Don’t let your dress undo you.

No one looks good giving a speech in a funny hat. Turn off the flashing bow tie. Remove the tinsel necklace. Wipe the lipstick smudge off your cheek and check that your hair – or comb-over – is in place.

3 Safety first.

Remind people about drinking and driving. Offer taxi chits or remind them about designated drivers. Then you’re doing your job as a host and an employer. And by doing so early, there is at least some chance that your advice will be taken.

4 Saying thank you is important, but please thank everyone at once.

Once you start doing special mentions,  everyone listens only to find out whether they’ve been recognised or passed over. So thank everyone together. One party; one team; one short, but heartfelt, “thank you”. The only exception is partners: they deserve special mention, if only for putting up with all of you.

5 You’re not the Godfather – this is personal, not business.

So don’t summarise the year’s achievements, or outline your strategy, even if you received inspiration in a dream last night. If it’s that important, write it down and email it to everyone, so they can read it when they’re sober and able to take it in.

6 Any idea you have mid-party (especially after two glasses of wine – see above) deserves a moment’s sober reflection before being offered up to the assembly. Now is not the time to explore ideas in public.

7 Be brief. 

Brief is better than funny. People come to Christmas parties for a good time, not to be motivated.  And whatever you do, don’t read your speech. Few things will occasion a sobering collective chill more certainly than the horrified realisation that you have just finished a nerve-numbing first page and appear to have a good many more left in your hand.

8 Unless you’re an experienced stand-up comic, do not tell jokes.

Maybe it was hilarious when you heard it in the pub, but I can pretty well guarantee it won’t be when you deliver it to 100 people. The only reliably  acceptable joke is one you make at your own expense.

9 Read out a list.

People love lists, mostly because they signal that your speech is about to end. Ten best things about Christmas. Ten things you must do before leaving this party. Ten things you must not do at this party. Ten reasons for not making any New Year’s resolutions. You get the picture. If you want to be funny,  this is your opportunity. After all, it worked for John Key, so you have to be in with a chance.

10 Close it with a bang, with everybody clapping and cheering. I’ll let you in to a secret: get people to congratulate themselves. “Join me giving a big round of applause for a really special group: New Zealand’s best team of home decorators/ insurance adjustors/navel gazers.” That way everyone will be clapping and hollering as you finish, and you can, for a moment, delude yourself that the applause is for your speech.

But that’s the point: it’s not about you; it’s about everyone else. If you remember that, you’ll be fine. Easy,  really. That’s it. And good luck: now you’re on your own. Have a merry Christmas, drive safely and thank you for being such a wonderful, considerate, informed and patient reader.