If you’ve been given the task of giving the speech at this year’s office party then you’d better read this article! Gavin McMahon and Peter Watts Paskale outline some of the most useful language tricks of the speaker’s trade and show how effective these rhetorical flourishes can be in making your holiday speech – indeed any speech – both enjoyable for your audience and one they won’t forget (for the right reasons!).
Love it or loathe it, those ‘few words from the boss’ are as expected an element of your annual office party as an overdose of ‘Winter Wonderland’ playing in the mall, and often – just as welcome!
How can you make those words fun, motivating, and memorable, while avoiding the annual tinsel-trap of falling headfirst into a pile of Christmas-cliche?
We have the answers, and by way of an early holiday gift to all the readers of Presentation Guru, we’d like to share with you ten festively adapted ideas taken from our Dirty Rhetoric toolkit. Adding just two or three of these festive flavors to your holiday party speech will help deliver a Yuletide message your team will remember – and for all the right reasons.
1) Building your theme: First Word Repeat
Winning the undivided attention of a holiday audience can be notoriously tricky – which is why it’s always a good idea to deliver your speech at the beginning of the evening and not the end. Even then, it can be a challenge to drive home your message when the party spirit distracts.
To get your main theme out there, and in a way that’s quick and foolproof, there’s no better technique than first-word repetition. Think of that three-wheeler tricycle that you might once have been lucky enough to receive during a holiday celebration many years ago.
A three-wheeler bike gives perfect support no matter how fast you might ride. No wobble for you when there’s a wheel at each corner. Holiday messages get that same solid stability when you include the same phrase in consecutive lines of your speech:
Let’s celebrate a successful year past
Let’s celebrate a successful year ahead
Let’s celebrate an incredibly well earned holiday
We’ve delivered service that’s the best in the market
We’ve delivered products that are the best in the market
We’ve delivered results that are the best in the market
For one step further on the tricycle theme, try a train set approach.
Toy train sets link whole chains of little toy train cars together, and then send them circling around the Christmas tree. Even if those cars are actually disparate in appearance and purpose, the whole unit still goes trundling along as a logical whole. That’s why we sometimes refer to a ‘train of thought’. You can take advantage of this by using repetition to string phrases together. Just replace the trains with words and make sure that the last word of one line becomes the first word of the next.
If you have several topics that you want to cover in your speech, try tying them together.
I wish you happy holidays. Holidays full of excitement.
Make it a priority this holiday to find time to relax. Relax and spend time with your friends and families.
3) Really hammering home the holidays: AutoCorrect
Festive clichés are truly the bane of holiday speeches and that’s precisely because they can be so incredibly tricky to avoid! With phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ literally hanging from the party banners above your head, you can start to feel a little boxed-in about exactly what’s left to say.
There is however an escape route! Try applying a new twist to some of the tired old formulae.
For this technique you’ll need one Christmas cliché, your sharpest candy cane pencil, and the verbal eraser of ‘NO!’ because you’re going to turn bland holiday greetings into something far spicier.
For example, here’s what happens to “happy holidays.” when we audibly rub-out the bland and replace it with something edgier:
I’d like to wish happy holidays to you and your families. Actually, no I don’t! I want to wish an amazing holiday to you and your families!
I wish you all happy holidays. No, strike that! I wish you all sensational holidays!
4) Listing accomplishments: Noisy Comma
Holiday speeches are no time for modesty. You’re rounding-off the year and want to send everyone home with a bang. Your elves have worked hard and not only do you want them to know it – you want them to know how much you appreciate it. After all, this year’s praise will mark the start of next year’s performance, so make sure that every achievement stands proud.
This means that part of your speech will list hard-won successes. For a simple way to make all those successes stand-out, look no further than the most famous holiday poem of them all – ‘The Night Before Christmas’:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen, On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen.”
The reason that each name is as distinct as a Santa in a snow-drift, is because each is emphasized by the stressed word that appears before it. Imagine if the line went: “Now Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.” They’d all become one long stretch-reindeer blur.
For lists of accomplishments, make each element clear by replacing commas, with the word “and”:
This year we’ve launched products and won clients and expanded the business and been more successful than ever before.
We’ve grown the team and increased our service levels and developed the business.
Here’s a technique that shows people this year’s ‘good’ can become next year’s great. It all starts with the story of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.
There it was – the last one on the lot. A poor tired little tree that had even lost most of its needles. Everybody laughed at it, but Charlie Brown’s festive spirit made that tree glitter. If Charlie Brown could conjure Christmas magic from that, then he could conjure it from anything – and that’s what the rhetorical structure of strength does in a speech.
Think about where your team have conquered seemingly unbeatable odds. Use those moments to make the argument that if they can do that, they can do anything! Conjure the magic of achievements past, and your team will conjure achievements yet-to-come.
“Project ABC was the most demanding assignment we’ve ever been asked to do. It was a tight deadline — it was a challenging client — AND they kept changing the specs. And still we achieved it! — If we can meet that sort of pressure, we can meet anything!”
“We’ve grown the business. If we can grow the business in a recession year like this, then think what we can achieve next year.”
There are some toys that children love to receive but that parents hate them to be given. Drum kits for example. Why do parents hate holiday drum kits?
It’s because drums are to family friction as games are to family fun.
Analogies create the illusion of cause and effect: A is to B, as C is to D. It makes your case sound logical and your logic sound vivid. Where things are vivid, they are always remembered!
Make them seasonal: Santa is to Christmas as the Bunny is to Easter
Make them businesslike: Creativity is to success as oxygen is to breathing
Make them funny: Holidays are to relaxation as canal-root fillings are to massage
A lump of coal in the stocking means someone’s been bad. There are times though when it isn’t someone who’s been bad, but something that’s been bad, such as hard times or tough decisions during the year just passed.
In a holiday speech, your team will expect you to reference those times, but with this being a celebration you don’t want to collapse the party spirit.
Negatives need acknowledging without re-animating, so use a “not……but…” structure:
This past year has not been without it’s challenges, but……
There have been times when this year has not been the easiest, but…..
We’ve had to make decisions that have not been happy ones, but….
Follow that “but…” with an uplifting statement. You will have nodded to the tough times, but immediately re-directed your audience to better times to come.
8) Create a sound that sounds superb: Foresound
To create a Christmas cracker you need a soundbite, and for that you need a couple of words that start with the same sound; a little like Christmas Cracker!
When you do this, that sound repetition uses a technique that’s central in memorable holiday phrases: “Suzy Snowflake”, “Dominic the Donkey”, and “Happy Holidays” to name just a few.
The technique works best when you use words that start with strong consonants that are known as ‘plosives’. In particular look for words that start with the sounds of b, d, f, p, and t. (so that’s buh, duh, fuh, puh, and tuh.)
Doubling down on plosive consonants doubles the delivery delight.
There’s another way to double-down on the double-sound technique that will make your holiday audience pucker-up with pleasure.
It’s sometimes said, and we’re inclined to agree, that holiday speeches can become a little saccharine. There’s only so much candy an audience can take in one dose, and after all – sugary sweetness might not be the speaking style that your work colleagues expect of you.
This taste-test is easily fixed with the verbal equivalent of a sour candy. A good old-fashioned oxymoron, that gets the mouth watering by starting sour, and then turning sweet.
Take two words that start with the same letter, but have more or less opposite meanings. Now collide them together. Make sure the first one’s nasty, and the second one’s nice!
It’s a tasty little contradiction that delivers sweetness with a twist.
While plain speaking might be admired during a board meeting, plain speech fails when it comes to the office party. Your holiday speech needs to move, to inspire, and above all, to be remembered. It needs to have colors.
Here’s our favorite shortcut for finding phrases that add a measure of sparkle. Run a Google search for “Christmas Word Cloud”, then choose a selection of festive phrases to sprinkle through your speech. Go with an approximate ratio of 1:50. For every 50 words of plain speaking, make sure you have at least one bright splash of festive color.
May your holiday speech be bright. May your holiday speech be memorable. And may your holiday speech be fun.
If you have fun in the writing, then you’ll have fun in the delivery, and if you’re enjoying the delivery, then you can guarantee that your audience will be enjoying themselves as well.