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For detailed information about special occasion speaking, see my e-books: Toasts, Eulogies, Introductions, and Other Special Occasion Speeches; Bare Bones Public Speaking.

Book Cover Public Speaking Book Cover Special Occasion Speaking

Special Occasion Speeches

Commemoration or Celebration

Inspirational: Also, "Reinforce." One speaks to the converted. The pre-game pep talk is a form of this speech. Party Nomination speeches also have characteristics of inspiration. Emotional appeals are appropriate—no proof is necessary—because of audiences agreement. You are "preaching to the converted," or the congregation. What you want to make sure to do is provide "reasons" or links for the audience to grasp. That is, tell them why this event should be important to them and about what they should to be excited. Using personal experience here is often quite useful. Keep your point simple; be sure to make your point clear; and, identify specific behaviors the audience can engage in.

Commemoration or Celebration: Commemoration deals with past events, e.g., patriotic and historical occasions and celebrations of past events—cf. the speeches on Martin Luther King, Washington, or Susan B. Anthony’s birthdays. Celebrations are often more focused on current events: graduations, celebrations of "specialness," bicentennials, sesquicentennials, individual or group accomplishments, etc. Be sure to have a coherent point. Narrative, personal and family experiences, and the retelling of important stories are strategies that are often employed here.

Nomination: Persuasive and enthusiastic. Speech to actuate. Like a speech of tribute. Business-like, energetic, and your goal is to stress the qualifications of the person involved. Begin with statement of intent—"to rise to place a name in nomination"; state the requirements needed for the job; name the candidate and state the person’s qualifications for the position—your job is to show why the nominee is an excellent choice; finally urge the audience to endorse the candidate as you formally place their name in nomination. Alternatively, you might start with the person’s name if they are already well known and understood to be a potential candidate.

  1. Stress dominant traits.
  2. Mention only outstanding achievements.
  3. Give special emphasis to the skills of the person.
  4. Narration and anecdote is appropriate here, as are metaphors.
  5. Try to "whip up the crowd"—especially supporters.

Goodwill: Create or strengthen favorable attitudes: Establish Ethos. Goodwill speeches are based around creation/cultivation of modesty, tolerance, and good humor. Sometimes your goal will be to change uninformed beliefs and hostile attitudes. You must know and represent the facts clearly and show a tolerant, patient, attitude. Do not deride or attack opposing views or competitors but instead be good-natured and good-humored. Keep in mind three things:

  1. Present interesting and novel information and facts about your subject;
  2. Show a relationship between the subject and the lives of your audience;
  3. Offer a definite service or information to the audience. Humility is often the key here. Do not so much attack oppositional views as offer to help the audience understand yours better. Introduction (of self) speeches where a speaker identifies/explains his/her services are examples of this speech.

Tribute: To create in those who hear it a sense of appreciation for the traits or accomplishments of the particular person or group. If you make the audience realize their essential worth you have succeeded, however, you should go beyond this; by honoring the person, you may arouse deeper devotion to the cause or vales the person or group represented. Avoid pedantic speech and ostentatious speaking—no purple prose.

  1. Stress dominant traits.
  2. Mention only outstanding achievements
  3. Give special emphasis to the influence of the group/person.

Toast: Many cultures including our own, employ a sophisticated tradition of toasting. Russian Tomadas, for example, entertain as well as serving as toast master/mistress. "Toast Masters" (the group) in a sense, practice a form of toasting; as does the Rotary club. The Russians may toast all around the table, and the Georgians (former USSR not U.S.) are considered great speakers and often offer very beautiful and elaborate toasts.

  1. The purpose of the toast is to honor and call attention to someone or something.
  2. They can be humorous or serious depending on the situation or speaker.
  3. In Western culture you should keep it short and have a point (1–2 minutes is good).
  4. Panache, kairos, polish, and poise are most important here. You want to give the most memorable toast at the table.
  5. Don’t read from notecards.

Introduction: Make the audience receptive for the speaker and want to hear him/her: Talk with the speaker, perhaps consult their resume or vitae. The speech of introduction is intended to highlight the accomplishments, credentials, activities, and characteristics of the individual to speak. There are several conventions to be observed when conducting an effective speech of introduction. Do them well and the audience will be excited and feel rewarded to hear the speaker; do them poorly and the audience will want you to shut up.

  1. Make the audience want to hear the speaker.
    • You might relate an anecdote or (short) story, arouse curiosity, etc.
    • Make an effort to get the audience to like/respect the person—use information that the audience would find interesting, significant, or appealing.
  2. Cover the aspects of the speakers background that the audience would find pertinent: education, special honors, work, etc. (This information can be gained by interviewing the speaker or getting an information sheet from them).
  3. Reveal the title or topic of the speech and make a connection between the speech and the audience—do not talk about the topic yourself.
  4. Never talk about yourself or your own ideas/theories on the subject. Although, you might relate some anecdote about how the person to speak was especially helpful, etc.
  5. Neither praise too highly, nor belittle or insult the speaker.
  6. The more famous the speaker the less you need to say.
  7. Some humor is okay, if it is in keeping with the occasion and tasteful.
  8. Be brief—Get up, Speak up, Shut up.

Farewell: When someone is bidding farewell to others they often comment on the situation under which they are leaving—it may be bitter as in Nixon’s case, or fond as when a respected school teacher or colleague retires. Farewell speeches are given by both the retiree, and by those who are remaining behind. When expressing gratitude for another, note the experiences, kindness, support, helpfulness, opportunities, consideration, and warmth the individual extended.

  1. Honor them—create a desire for the audience to emulate him/her.
  2. Do not try to tell everything about the person—pick out the dominant personal traits, outstanding achievements, and/or influence on others. Keep your lists short but keen.
  3. Although you may express regret at their departure, be positive about the future—tell where they are going…you will miss them, but they go on to greater/better things.
  4. Do not make the audience overly depressed.
  5. Sometimes a gift is connected with the speech (the cliché gold watch). Present it at the end of the speech.
When you are bidding farewell, you should also note the experiences, kindness, support, helpfulness, opportunities, consideration, and warmth your colleagues extended. Same principles as above apply here. Avoid the temptation to "really say what you think" about those who have wronged you, impeded your progress/success, or were downright mean. Such speeches often follow people and lead to regret for giving them.

Entertainment: Usually brief 3–5 minutes; but may be longer, 5–10 minutes tops. The speech to entertain requires more imagination, creativity, discretion, versatility, and judgment than perhaps any other type of speech. The purpose of the speech to entertain is, according to Robert G. King, "to interest, please and amuse your listeners." J.K.Horner writes that the primary purpose of the after dinner [or entertainment] speech is "entertainment and good fellowship." Enjoyment is the desired response from the audience in a speech to entertain. Its function is to contribute favorably to the climate of fellowship among the listeners. In a successful speech to entertain, observes William Allen Wood, "we expect our intellect, our taste, and our affections to be pleased." Additional suggestions for the composition and delivery of after dinner speeches are as follows:

  1. Carefully select an interesting, timely, and appropriate topic. Having something familiar in the talk that the audience can relate to will enhance listener interest. Having a novel or surprise feature in the talk will enhance attention.
  2. Build your speech around a central theme, moral, or one-point idea.
  3. Support your main point or central theme with colorful stories, narrative and examples.
  4. Be imaginative and creative when delivering your talk. Few speeches demand more imagination and creativity than the speech to entertain.
  5. Be genial and goodnatured when delivering your talk—irony is acceptable but not bitterness.
  6. Be optimistic and modest when speaking and create an appropriate mood for your listeners.
  7. Use plenty of humor.
  8. Humor is the key ingredient in speeches to entertain. This can be accomplished through satire, irony, banter, ridicule, and wit. Some of the recognized constituents of humor are:

Dedication: Dedication speeches are given for the person or people who were instrumental in the construction, fundraising, or placement of buildings, objects, monuments, artworks, ships, (or any monumental vessel) and places (parks, etc.).

  1. State the purpose of the occasion or the meaning to the group or organization—yes, they know this but you do it anyway for any guests or media who might be in attendance.
  2. Give brief, pertinent facts—the history of a building, object, or the persons involved with it—life facts about the person for a statue, etc.
  3. Express thanks for any person particularly instrumental in building, creating, and/or fund raising.
  4. What inspiration for the future can the assembled group (and those not assembled) draw from the occasion/event?
  5. Narration/anecdote is appropriate here, as are brief metaphorical stories or aphorisms.
  6. Eloquence, originality, and profundity are the key here. Do not rely on stereotypes, do not use puns, avoid dead metaphors, and try to say something lasting and something that will sound good on the 5:00 news.

NB: The Champagne bottle is scored so that it will break when it is struck on the ship or building (score it well so it only takes one shot). If an elderly person is doing the breaking, be sure a couple of young people are nearby to assist them if they lose their balance.

Eulogies/Memorial: Eulogies are usually given for a person soon after their death at a funeral service; memorials are for large groups and are often held well after an individual(s) death.

  1. The general purpose is to pay honor or tribute to the deceased. Never forget, however, that you are giving the speech for the living and not the dead.
  2. Stress the dominant traits, outstanding achievements, and/or the influence the person had on events and people.
  3. A biographical account of the person’s life (birth to death) is often part of the eulogy.
  4. Create a sense of appreciation for the person. And hold their life up as one worthy of emulation.…Unless you think that they were a rotten so-and-so in which case you probably shouldn’t be speaking about them.
  5. Highlight using quotations, stories, and examples.
  6. The goals of a eulogy are to console the audience as well as to praise the deceased.
  7. The eulogy is usually short, 2–6 minutes, and is usually followed by a sermon.
  8. Religious messages are also combined with the eulogy.

Unpublished Manuscript:
The rhetoric of funeral oratory and eulogy:
Reconciling rhetorics of past and present

Dissertation: The rhetoric of eulogies:
A generic critique of classic and contemporary funeral oratory

Article: The rhetoric of eulogy:
Topoi of grief and consolation

† Thanks to Marcia Stratton, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Hank Scheele, Purdue University, for much of this content.

When in 362 BCE a chasm appeared in the Roman forum, and the soothsayers declared that it could only be filled by throwing Rome’s greatest treasure into it, Mettius Curtius—declaring rather complacently that "Rome had no greater treasure than a brave citizen"—leapt on horseback into the gulf, which then closed after him.

Thomas De Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, end note 140.

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Last updated: Sunday, November 11, 2007