Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putting words in your mouth: Anniversary speeches & toasts

Anniversaries--whether they celebrate individuals, companies or groups--have a way of coming around with alarming regularity, particularly if you're being asked to give remarks on these special occasions.  If there's more than one speaker, the chances your content will overlap are high--after all, there are only so many ways to describe the excellent history of a marriage, membership group, historic site or event.  What to do?

Reboot your brain and use some handy online tools instead, and be the speaker who doesn't talk specifically about that special couple, organization or Where We Stand Today. Instead, focus on the numbers--20, 35, 70, 150 years in the anniversary, or the actual date, month or day--and find out what else was happening then. Make that the focus of your remarks.  For example, if you were honoring these types of anniversaries today, you could:
  • Connect the anniversary date to something special on the same day in history, and let it suggest a theme: "Bob and Jeannette were married 20 years ago, on June 16, 1990. Back in 1884 on the very same day, the first roller coaster in America opened. Clearly, if you want to start an exciting ride, June 16 is the date to do it. Here's to another 20 years of excitement!"  Check out History Channel's "This day in history" site for more ideas.
  • Use the year and your topical theme:  Let's say your company or organization or local chapter got going in 1960 and is having its 40th anniversary this year.  Dial up Wikipedia, enter "1960" in the search and get to "events of 1960."   Then cherry-pick events based on your company's topics--for example, science and technology.  You might include the start of the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, the launch of the first U.S. weather satellite, a nuclear submarine completing the first underwater circumnavigation of the globe.  (It'll work fine if you don't limit yourself to things strictly in your group or company history, but include related events.)  You could do the same with movies, sports, politics, world affairs, war, music and more.
  • Sprinkle in unrelated-to-your-topic events, too:  Sure, you have a roomful of aficionados.  Even they might want to know (in addition to the serious fare) that the nonprofit was founded in the same year that Twiggy burst on the modeling scene or the era when ice cream cones became a firm trend. Don't forget that for every deep fan of your topic, there's a spouse/cousin/aunt/volunteer who's not focused on that, but can appreciate a wider lens on the anniversary.
  • Generate some laughs and a sense of shared experiences.  Chase's Calendar of Events, a reference staple, offers a free online today-in-history timeline. With the June 16, 1960 focus, above, you might use this, as written on its website: "50 years ago, in 1960, the thriller Psycho premiered and millions of filmgoers began avoiding the shower."   Get the full complement of Chase's treasure trove (book and/or CD) and find out whether your anniversary event falls during National Hot Dog Week or the anniversary of the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock.
A good public speaking coach can help you brainstorm and shape creative remarks for any occasion, with plenty of input from you. Do you encounter other special occasions when you want words put in your mouth--that is, help to get your thinking starting on shaping your remarks?  Leave them in the comments, on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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