One of the advantages of being self-employed is that I’m normally spared from the annual rigours of the office Christmas party. Sometimes, however, you simply can’t escape from being dragged along to one as the spouse or partner of an employee.
Once when this happened to me, the boss came up to me during the pre-dinner aperitifs, apparently to ask my advice. “Ahh -” he said, “you’re supposed to be an expert on public speaking, so how about a few tips for my speech.”
At such short notice, all I could suggest was that he should make no more than three points, and stick to drinking water throughout the meal - making the obvious point that alcohol interferes with the very part of the brain that produces speech.
I also pointed out that, by the time he got up to speak, everyone else would be at different stages of intoxicaion and he would have the advantage of being one of the few people in the room with a clear head. “Then, once you’ve made your speech,” I said generously, “feel free to hit the bottle as much as you like.”
He made it pretty clear that he didn’t think much of my advice by promptly ordering another gin and tonic and telling me that his wife had already agreed to drive him home. During the dinner, he drank one glass of wine after another, glancing at me occasionally with what looked suspiciously like a defiant grin.
Then, when the time came for him to speak, this normally articulate and entertaining communicator slurred his words, and rambled on for what everyone agreed afterwards was far too long. It was difficult to tell one point from another, let alone how many he was making - other than that there were far more than the three I’d recommended.
The safest way of avoiding such embarrassment is obviously not to make a speech at all. But people at office parties do expect someone to say something, even if it’s only to wish them a happy Christmas. And there are always going to be people there to be welcomed and/or thanked.
So, if you’re the one on whom this burden falls, here are seven steps to see you safely through it.
Seven Steps to Success
1. Plan what you want to say in advance, jot some headings down on cards and don’t be afraid to be seen using them on the day. Apart from giving you the added confidence that comes from knowing that you won’t forget what to say, it will make you look conscientious and professional for having gone to the trouble of preparing a few words speciallyfor the occasion.
2. Drink as little alcohol as possible, and preferably none at all, before making the speech.
3. Welcome and thank everyone for coming, with a special welcome to spouses, partners and any other guests from outside the office.
4. Thank everyone involved in organising the event, preparing food, booking venue, etc.
5. If appropriate, mention any significant or amusing things that have happened since the last Christmas party, and perhaps speculate on what lies ahead in the coming year.
6. Wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy new year -- and make sure you sound as though you mean it.
7. Be brief: five minutes is probably the absolute limit. After all, hardly anyone ever complains about a speech being too short, and the biggest compliment you can be paid is when people say they wish you’d gone on longer