Now the odds are that you have come to this page because you are a Nosey Parker, because the odds are also that you are either an after-dinner speaker and don’t need advice, or you haven’t yet become so well known as a speaker that you’ve never yet been invited to do one. I’ve done little after dinner speaking so I’m going to leave it largely to others to challenge and help you.
I’m told it was Winston Churchill who said, “There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.”
... which suggests either
- you are pretty daft even thinking about doing an after dinner speech, or
- you have an ego the size of a bus, or
- you need the money, or
- you are genuinely a nice person that others like and would like to hear from!
In its simplest form there are two sorts of after dinner speech:
1. Those that inform
2. Those that entertain.
2. Speeches that Inform
In the UK, possibly the most famous annual after dinner speech that informs is that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Lord Mayor of London’s “Bankers Banquet” at the Mansion House in the early part of the year.
There’s also the other Banquet in the Autumn with the new Lord Mayor, as there is a changeover of Mayors. How about this as an opening greeting:
“My late Lord Mayor, Your Grace, My Lord High Chancellor, Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Fellow Aldermen, Sheriffs, Mr Recorder, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen.”
You know you’re with the great and the good when you hear that! Chief Commoner????
If you want to see such an after dinner speech on such a fine occasion (that being in November 2007) CLICK HERE
These are examples of speeches that are designed to inform. In the former one, the Chancellor (as well as the Lord Mayor) takes the opportunity to speak to the senior people of the City of London on financial matters. With the latter one, the new Lord Mayor lays down intent for the coming year of his office.
If you are invited to speak as an after-dinner speaker who informs, it will probably be:
- A very specific education, professional or technology-based function and
- You are obviously someone who has something to contribute to them.
Very simply, the basics here are:
- What do they need to hear?
- What have you got of value to say to them?
- How long have you reasonably got to share it?
- How do you present it with interest that avoids boredom setting in?
- How do you keep yourself on track – notes on cards, or headings?
- How do you draw it to an end that leaves them feeling they can hold on to the key, salient points?
3. Speeches that Entertain
On the Guardian Website Gyles Brandreth did a good piece on “The seven golden rules of after dinner speaking”
To see the article CLICK HERE
Here are some key bits from it:
1. Know your audience
I do my homework - last week I was in Frankfurt speaking at the flotation of a big aerospace company, and so I needed to know about aerospace, about the company, about German politics
2. Entertain your audience, not yourself
You are there to give pleasure to your audience, not to beat them over the head or upset them
3. Stay sober
You need your wits about you. I don't have a sip of wine. Not a sip!
4. Speak before 11pm
Public speaking is about energy - yours as a performer and theirs as an audience. At 10pm they may be mellow. By 11pm, they may be exhausted.
5. Don't be lumbered with a set text
Don't go with a set-piece script - build into it what suits the occasion. I work from cards, on which I have 10 headings. In the break, I lock myself in the loo and read through the prepared material, and the material based on what I have learned that evening
6. Don't get rattled
It's the first 120 seconds that catches an audience, but pace yourself. Stand there, shoulders back, head high, stomach in. Look at them, wait until they are all quiet, then speak with clarity, conviction and warmth.
7. Don't outstay your welcome
Nobody ever complains that the speech was too short. People usually ask you to speak for too long because they want value for money. I'm often asked to speak for 40 minutes. I prefer 30. Some of the best speeches are just 10. But you should please the audience, not the bookers. Bill Clinton and Desmond Tutu are the best speakers. Great speeches have humour, content and humanity, and Clinton and Tutu deliver on all three fronts.
Well there you are! “Speak with clarity, conviction and warmth.” I like it!
Some general guide suggestions that often crop up on websites giving you “how to” advice:
- Use note cards, index cards or even a print out of your after dinner speech topics if you are not a very experienced speaker.
- Avoid religious humour, racist or ethnic, sexist, and even political humour that could offend or provoke individuals or groups
- Don't make your public feel angry, alienated or uncomfortable
- If you get a rowdy audience put up with it – they’re paying you!