10 ways to avoid screwing up your speech at the holiday party

Pontificating, dwelling on setbacks and waiting until everyone is sloshed—including you—are all invitations for disaster to strike. Keep it light, brief and positive, and pass the crab puffs.

Ah, the office holiday party. It conjures punchlines of poor wardrobe choices and over-served sales reps.

In reality, it’s one of the more dignified traditions to survive the modern working world.

For bosses, it’s a moment that calls for reminding everyone why they’re drinking (or at least eating) on the company tab. Rather than view this speech as an obligation, bosses should embrace it as an opportunity to set the tone for the coming year with remarks that make the team feel both appreciated and appreciative.

Here are 10 tips for giving a great holiday speech:

1. Thank them. It’s the whole point of the speech and, frankly, the party. If you do nothing else, thank your colleagues for their hard work throughout the year.

2. Thank the significant others. They’ve made sacrifices on behalf of your company as well, carrying the load on the home front when an employee travels, works late or misses a parent/teacher conference. No one has greater influence on your employees’ decisions—whether it’s to stay at the company, volunteer for big projects or gripe about the health plan. Here is a chance to bank some good will with the spouses.

3. Mention milestones. Now’s also the time to remind employees of what it means to work for a great company. So mention your organization’s important milestones, whether it’s doubling sales or just staying afloat in a terrible economy. Mention some personal milestones, too, such as engagements, weddings, births, graduations and new home purchases. Helping employees make the connection between a great job and a high quality of life is worthwhile.

4. Get specific. If your team is small, mention each one along with something memorable about their year. If the team is large, you may still want to call on a few standouts-and not just the high billers. Some “fan favorites” might be worthy of a mention too, like the IT staffer who doubled download speed or the admin who engineered the office move.

5. Highlight successes; say nothing about setbacks. This isn’t a company meeting. It’s a party.

6. Be brief. Remember: For them the night is about the party, not the speech.

7. Rehearse. You might think you can wing it, but you’re wrong. Take time to draft remarks and rehearse them-aloud and at least three times.

8. Don’t chicken out. In a weak moment you might think a party doesn’t require a speech and opt just to skip it. Don’t. There is a reason why companies hold holiday parties, but employees won’t think about it unless you tell them.

9. Speak early. Wait until everyone arrives and has had a drink, but not much longer. You want folks sober and focused on you, and after more than an hour or so most won’t be either.

10. Save your own cocktails for afterward. You might want a drink to calm your nerves, but you’ll be better off without it. Instead, sip a soda until it’s go time, and then knock ’em dead. You can bask in the glow of a great speech (and a good stiff drink) the rest of the night.

Christina McKenna is president of Bluestone Executive Communications. A version of this article first appeared on the Bluestone Executive Communications blog.

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