Tis the season for office parties and dinners and, for many business owners, speeches, pep-talks and toasts.
Your Christmas party is an opportunity to bring everyone together as a group, and with the right words, inspire your team as you head into another year.
In a startup or small business, your Christmas celebration might be with only a handful colleagues. This won’t require a speech as we normally think of it, but a toast to a small group should have the same effect: to bond over shared memories.
Reflect & make your appeal
Reminding your colleagues of your successes and winding up with a funny incident will bring you all back to a positive note for the toast. In other words, it’s a chance for your group, even a small group, collectively to memorialize the events of the year and to think about why you work together—not just think about the profits.
The element of public speaking I’d like to concentrate on for this purpose is called “pathos”. This is part of the triad in Aristotle’s public-speaking handbook “The Rhetoric”.
In it, Aristotle wrote about Ethos, Logos and Pathos. This last, “pathos”, refers to forming an emotional connection with your audience. It means “experience” and is the root of “empathy” and “sympathy”.
This is NOT the same, by the way, as when you hear something described as “pathetic”, which is usually referring to something overly emotional.
Lighten it up
When you make an appeal to your audience’s emotions through speaking about a common experience (sympathy or empathy) then you bring everyone together. At this time of year, the emotional tool to use most is humour.
Of course, what’s funny to a group who experienced it might not seem so hilarious to anyone outside the group, which is why examples of this kind of thing normally don’t seem funny–but rather geeky–to outsiders.
There’s a saying people sometime use when a funny line fails to draw laughter: “You had to be there”. This may be cliché, but for speakers reaching out to an audience it’s very true.
You can test my theory with an experiment. Tell a group of friends from outside your workplace the funniest incident you can recall happening at work. Or, tell a group of (non-golfing) friends something hilarious that happened on the golf-course.
The lack of common experience will mean they won’t see the humour, even though it’s obvious to you.
In any speech for an occasion, your ad-hoc prep guide is:
- Your association with the event (setting the tone of the occasion and why you’re speaking in the first place)
- Three points on the importance (or specialness) of the occasion. The first point may be serious or reflective, but at least the last one should be a humorous or light-hearted anecdote
- Finish with a toast which summarises the event.
A wider audience
Even if you’re a small business, you may go to an annual event of a small business association, or the Chamber of Commerce. These events are important for networking, which is the corporate way of saying “bonding”.
Hence, you should be prepared to say a few words at a larger event full of people who are not close or direct colleagues.
Let me give you an example of what this looks like with a larger group where you don’t know everybody.
When I worked for a bank, I went to the retirement dinner of a colleague from a counterpart bank. The chap who gave the prepared talk was warm, funny, and gave us a good reminder of Jack’s cool calm during a 1987 financial crisis.
Then, several of us were asked to say a few extemporaneous words.
After the others, I related a story of going along with Jack on a charity golf outing which his bank had sponsored. As we were setting off in the motor-carts, a steward came running from the clubhouse to say that they had a problem with Jack’s car, which they wanted to move, and they’d misplaced the set of keys he’d given them.
“Call Avis!” he cried, driving off.
Now, if you didn’t know the way Jack concentrated his attention on his clients then this story wouldn’t be funny at all. But it brought the house down, both among the dozen people who’d been at the golf club and with the hundred or so more who hadn’t been there but who knew Jack.
Compare it to a TV drama. Shows about doctors don’t show the routine elements of the job. Was there ever a medical drama where a lab technician ran test after test inconclusively? For an hour?
Rather, you see a few moments of the technician at a computer (and a clock on the wall) to establish it’s been a long time and then the “Aha! Got it!” moment.
There’s nothing wrong with this. My point is that you must use a bit of shorthand and cut events down to a few elements which establish the context, followed by the interesting part you want to remind your audience about.
When you’re reminding colleagues of that time leaflets had been printed to send to clients about “market volitility ” and strategies for dealing with it, and an intern (with English as a third language) pointed out that “volatility” is misspelled (on the front cover no less), what parts do you add and which ones do you leave out?
I thought it was funny (later, much later) that nobody had read the front cover and that the intern (who normally didn’t speak up) pointed it out. Correcting a spelling error “in his third language” was the icing on the cake whenever I retold this story.
Particularly when the occasion is celebratory, feelings matter more than spreadsheets. You can hold your team – small or large – together and bring them with you by reaching, however briefly, their hearts.
Humour and stories about shared experience – pathos – will help you to create another moment that everyone will remember.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Paul Carroll. Paul is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. With more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, find your nearest club at www.toastmasters.org
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