Have you ever been asked do deliver an after dinner speech?
I want you to imagine, a room full of 200 University track and field athletes from all over Australia.
It is May 15th 1989 at 9.05 pm at the South Perth Civic Centre.
The Vice-Chancellor and his wife are seated on the head table.
Copious amounts of alcohol are being consumed by the athletes after three hard-days of competition which has now finished.
The only events remaining are unofficial ones, the skulling races and the nude 400 metres!
I rise to speak as the after dinner speaker, having been a three-time Australian University Games Champion, and small ‘c’ media celebrity.
Throughout the speech, I’m continually challenged to skull beer, together with the Vice-Chancellor.
The audience was well lubricated, riotous, wild and out of control.
I don’t think they remembered a word of my speech, but it was certainly a memorable evening and despite an invitation, I declined to make a comeback and race in the nude 400 metres afterwards.
The point of this story is that an after dinner speech is one of the most difficult presentations to give.
The duration often lasts from eight to twenty five minutes.
If alcohol is being served, a key rule is to never speak for more than fourteen minutes, because what do people want to do at a dinner or even a sundowner where alcohol is being served?
They want to network, they want to get to know other people, meet other people and perhaps even flirt a little bit.
There are eight other multiple speaking intelligences; key note, acceptance speech, thank you speech, panellist, training, chair person, MC and facilitation.
Whatever you do, never try to train, teach or facilitate in an after dinner speech.
Many confident speakers fail badly because they get both the context and content wrong.
If you ever have to give an after dinner speech, here are thirteen different criteria to help you structure such a speech:
1. Starting Point
As after dinner speeches are given in a relaxed setting, planning is best done by choosing appropriate personal stories that contain humour or war stories, stories that the audience can relate to and keep the mood light-hearted.
Light and Sweet should always be the focus of an after dinner speech, in line with the occasion.
While you may have been chosen because of your knowledge on the topic at hand, ensure you keep your speech witty and charming.
The style must be complementary to the dinner theme drawing attention to the reason people are there.
Depending on the type of function at which you are speaking, interaction should be kept low to medium, after all, you are the one who has been chosen to speak.
Although you may not feel it is necessary to prepare for an after dinner speech, high preparation will help you keep in line with the theme of the evening.
Remember it is an honour to speak and this carries great responsibility.
Do not try and wing it!
After dinner speeches should be very entertaining, remember light and sweet.
8. Content and Expertise
While you might have been chosen because you have some relationship to the topic, eg. Father of the bride at your daughters wedding, you are not expected to be giving an academic speech, so content and expertise remains relatively low.
As with preparation, scripting should be high. Make every word count. Cut out unnecessary words.
A high degree of rehearsing will make the world of difference when you have to get up in front of an audience.
Always do a sound check and get comfortable with the stage and lighting prior to your speech.
As stories often feature in after dinner speeches, the narrative aspect is high. Make sure people can relate to your stories by relating them to the theme of the evening.
The aim of an after dinner speech is usually to celebrate the occasion. Build in this call to action. For example, if appropriate you could get everyone to charge their glass in lieu of the situation.
13. Summary Questions
Your primary task is to entertain, ask yourself as a summary and review question, ‘did they laugh?’