Special occasions, according to Stephen Lucas, author of The Art of Public Speaking, “are the punctuation marks of day-to-day life, the high points that stand out above ordinary routine” (p. 440). These occasions include retirement dinners, inaugurals, award ceremonies, weddings, anniversaries, christenings, graduations, funerals, etc. Moreover, such occasions usually always require someone, and oftentimes more than one person, to address an audience.
“Although no speech can be given a formula,” according to Rudolph Verderber, author of the Challenge of Effective Speaking, “certain occasions require at least the knowledge of conventions that various speakers observe and that audiences expect” (p. 314). When you are called upon to deliver a special-occasion speech, if you know these conventions, you will be equipped to deliver an effective and perhaps even memorable speech.
The Different Kinds of Special Occasion Speeches
There are basically five different types of special-occasion speeches:
Tips for Delivering a Speech of Introduction
A speech of introduction, as Verderber says, should psychologically prepare an audience for the main speaker; therefore, your goal should be threefold:
To say who the speaker is;
To provide biographical information that establishes the speaker’s qualifications;
To tell what the speech is about.
Remember, you are not the person the audience has come to hear, so keep it brief. In fact, speeches of introduction normally should last only two to three minutes (infrequently up to four), so state the nature of the occasion in the first one or two sentences; in the remaining sentences, establish the speaker’s credibility; and then conclude by repeating the speaker’s name and announcing the title of the talk. (Verderber, 2000)
Lucas says that you should also keep the following guidelines in mind when introducing a speaker:
Make sure any remarks are completely accurate; otherwise you could embarrass yourself as well as the person being introduced.
Adapt remarks to the occasion; formal occasions require more formal introductions than informal occasions.
Adapt remarks to the audience. If the audience isn’t familiar with the speaker, establish the person’s credibility by relating his or her main accomplishments and qualifications.
Never make remarks that might embarrass the speaker; for instance, do not overpraise the person since you will be creating expectations that he or she might not meet, and never reveal embarrassing details about the person’s personal life, even if you yourself find them amusing.
Increase the audience’s anticipation by casting the person “in a new light” (Lucas, p. 443). You can accomplish this by talking to the guest speaker beforehand and learning some interesting facts that are not generally known.
How to Give a Welcoming Speech
“A welcoming speech,” according to Verderber, “is one that expresses pleasure for the presence of a person or an organization” (p. 318; and he suggests the following approach:
Express your pleasure in welcoming the person or organization.
Provide some information about the guest and the place to which he or she is being welcomed. It’s important, though, that you do your homework in advance since any information you provide should be accurate and complete.
Make the conclusion brief by simply stating your hope that the person or organization has an enjoyable and/or profitable visit.
How to Deliver a Speech of Tribute
Tribute addresses honor a person, group of people, institution, or idea and include testimonials, eulogies, dedications, etc. The occasion may be a job promotion, new job, retirement, anniversary, birthday, or funeral. (Lucas, 1998)
According to Verderber, “The key to an effective tribute is sincerity;” however, “although you want the praise to be apparent, you do not want to overdo it” (p. 318). He suggests that you follow these guidelines:
Acquire in-depth biological information about the person but “focus on the person’s laudable characteristics and accomplishments” (p. 319).
If the person is well known to the audience, use a more general analysis.
If the person isn’t well-known, provide more details so the audience can recognize why the person is being praised.
Remain objective and remember that “excessive praise is far worse than understatement,” so don’t gush, but “try to give the person his or her due honestly and sincerely” (p. 319).
Tips for Delivering a Presentation Speech
This type of address is delivered when someone receives an award, a gift, or another form of public recognition (Lucas, 1998). You main purpose is to focus on the recipient and his or her achievement, so you should explain why the person is receiving the recognition. If appropriate, also mention his or her other contributions and accomplishments.
Presentation speeches are usually quite brief and may consist of nothing more than an announcement, but at other times, they may require an explanation of the award and its purpose. Plus, if the award is a prize for a competition and the audience knows the competitors, you might offer them praise as well. (Lucas, 1998)
Tips for Delivering an Acceptance Speech
When delivering an acceptance speech, your goal is to tell the audience “thank you” for an award or gift and to acknowledge the contributions of anyone who helped you obtain it. Lucas suggests that you follow these steps:
Say how honored you are to be receiving the recognition.
Briefly explain why it’s such an honor. (What does this award represent to you? Why is it significant?)
Acknowledge those people who influenced you or provided you with assistance.
Close with a “special thanks” to the organization bestowing the award or gift.
In summary, you may someday be called upon to deliver a special-occasion speech, and if you are familiar with the conventions of successful speakers, you won’t have to panic, for you will be well equipped to speak efficiently and perhaps even memorably.