It’s your last day on the job. Your colleagues have gathered in a conference room, gotten you a few nice going-away gifts and purchased a cake in your honor.
Suddenly, they begin chant: “Speech! Speech! Speech!”
Your adrenaline surges, and your heart begins to pound. And, if you’re like most people, you’ll mutter something like this:
“OK, well, I wasn’t expecting to say anything. But, well, I guess what I’d like to say is it’s been an amazing eight years here. You’re an amazing team and like a second family to me. We’ve been through some ups and downs together-OK, a lot of downs together. But I will really miss you. This isn’t really goodbye, though, because I’m going to stay in touch with all of you whether you like it or not!”
If your goal is to leave a strong impression on your bosses and co-workers, that’s not a great way to do it.
I’ve been guilty of giving that bland goodbye speech. For example, when I left Nightline in 1999, the staff gathered in a conference room to send me off. Ted Koppel, the program’s host, was there, as well as the executive producer, all of the senior producers, on-air correspondents and others.
Frankly, I was overwhelmed so many important people thought enough of me to gather in my honor. I made it through a few sentences, got emotional and abruptly ended my speech.
I wish I could do it over. If I could, my goodbye speech would have looked more like this:
“Most people are nervous to meet Ted Koppel. I know I was. When I finally worked up the nerve to say hello, I confidently stuck out my hand and introduced myself. I then took a step forward and caught my foot on an open file cabinet drawer, which sent me plummeting to the ground. (pause) It took me a good two weeks to get past that humiliation.
“When I did, I quickly learned this place offered endless opportunities to a young staffer—far more than I had earned. You were open to my story ideas, welcomed me into edit rooms, sent me on video shoots and gave me the opportunity to make some public mistakes. People know Nightline is a great show, but they probably don’t know how great its staff is at making a young, aspiring journalist feel like part of the team.
“My mother tells me my grandfather never missed Nightline. He died in 1982 when I was nine years old and Nightline was only two. Every night when I hear that opening theme music, I think of him and how proud he would have been to know his grandson worked here with all of you. Thank you.”
There isn’t a formula for an effective goodbye speech, but the version I drafted above offers a few ideas:
1. Use anecdotes. The first is humorous and self-effacing; the second is heartfelt and offers a bit of personal biography.
2. Include a serious point between anecdotes. I thanked my colleagues for not making an inexperienced staffer feel so inexperienced.
3. Keep it short. The remarks are purposefully short but pack a lot of content into just 90 seconds.
4. Be original. No one else could deliver those remarks, because no one else had those experiences.
The next time you leave a job, challenge yourself. Deliver a goodbye speech people will remember long after you finish your slice of goodbye cake.