An after dinner speech can be a great opportunity to share stories, entertain our audience, and make a lasting impression. But that opportunity comes with certain challenges.
Your audience might have eaten a heavy meal or waited too long between courses. Perhaps the wine has been flowing to excess and it’s now getting late.
The sounds of clinking coffee cups and raucous conversation doesn’t make it any easy either. Add to that the audience’s expectation of an entertaining speech. It’s not easy and can be more than a little daunting.
Panic not. You can do this. Here are some simple tips to help master the art of after dinner speaking.
Because of the particular dynamic of an after dinner speech, it’s vital to make a strong start.
The first few minutes are crucial. We need to grab the audience’s attention away from their coffee cups and the other guests and pull focus.
Firstly, try to frame your overall message. You could pose a question that you’re then going on to answer. Or think of a humorous story that illustrates your topic.
I would urge against telling actual jokes because, if they don’t land well, you can end up with egg on your face. Amusing anecdotes that are relevant to your audience, or the event, are much more likely to succeed. And amusing anecdotes against yourself can help to bring a touch of humility, which always goes down well.
There are three things we need for any speech: Energy, Clarity, and Humanity.
We probably need 10% more energy than usual. Just like we’re turning on a lightbulb. We’re not trying to be a game show host, we’re just lifting our energy by 10%.
We need clarity of message, so the audience can follow our thoughts easily. We also need clarity in the way we speak. A clear, unhurried delivery is usually best. Don’t be tempted to go too fast just to get it over and done with. And remember that nerves make us speed up, so it’s good to consciously try to slow down. This will make you look and feel more confident. It also allows time for the audience to process your message.
And lastly, humanity. We want the audience to feel we’re being authentic and human. Forget whether it’s B2B or B2C. This is H2H. Human to Human. If we speak in that way, our message is much more likely to connect every time. People often ask me if I change my style depending on where I am in the world. Honestly, I don’t really. I believe that as long as we speak with humanity then our message will almost always land well.
Here are my five Do’s when making an after dinner speech:
- Do think about your audience in advance. What might they be thinking? How well do they know you? Or each other? How much do they know about your subject? Are they experts in this field?
- Do make sure your speech has a point. Of course, the audience wants to be entertained but they also want to learn something interesting or unexpected.
- Do plan a strong start. And a strong ending. These are the important bookends of your structure. As audiences generally remember the first and last thing you say, it’s a great chance to be memorable.
- Do tell a personal story (or two) so you share something of yourself. The audience will want to feel they know more about you at the end than they did before the start.
- Do try to be yourself and use your own voice when speaking. You’re not trying to be a Prime Minister or a famous comedian. Speak just like you’re talking to a friend.
And my five Don’ts when making an after dinner speech:
- Don’t drink before a speech. Ever. You might feel more relaxed but, in truth, you’ll just think you’re funnier than you actually are.
- Don’t tell jokes about hairdressers, if you’re talking to hairdressers They’ll probably have heard most of them before.
- Don’t speak for too long. A tight 15 minute speech is much better than 30 minutes of waffle and padding.
- Don’t tell inappropriate stories or use inappropriate language.
- Don’t tell stories that simply big yourself up. You’ll end up looking pompous. And the audience will be secretly hoping that you spill your coffee or trip up on the carpet.
I wish you the very best of luck next time you stand up to entertain an audience after dinner. Remember, you don’t have to be an awesome speaker. You just have to be yourself. Have a clear point. And connect on a human level.
Ultimately, just share the love.