A ceremonial speech, regardless of the level of formality, should have a purpose that is clear to the speaker and the audience members. A ceremonial speech can do a variety of things, such as celebrate an event, commemorate a person, entertain an audience, or inspire people (O’Hair, Stewart, & Rubenstein, 2001). Each type of ceremonial speaking occasion has its unique considerations, and each speech needs to be adapted to the audience, the honored person(s), the social context, and the event. This section covers several types of ceremonial speeches: speech of introduction, toast and roast, award presentation, acceptance speech, keynote address, commencement address, commemorative speech or tribute, and after-dinner speech.
An important function of the speech of introduction is to introduce the main speaker and to inspire the audience to listen to that speaker (O’Hair & Stewart, 1999). Any speech of introduction needs to be brief. After all, the person making the introduction should not be the focus of attention. The introductory speech should accomplish two things: (a) provide a brief backdrop or background of the main speaker, and (b) introduce the speaker’s topic. Once these tasks are accomplished, the person doing the introduction should invite a warm welcome from the audience. Here is an example of a speech of introduction:
The person giving our keynote address is someone we all know and admire. Not only is Dr. Brian Garcia an alum of our university and department, but he has gone on to make major contributions to our field. As one of our nation’s foremost experts in end-of-life care and communication, Dr. Moore has written over 50 journal articles and book chapters on this field. We are privileged today to hear him speak on hospice care and the Hispanic population. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Brian Garcia.
A toast is a tribute to a person or event, usually brief (O’Hair & Stewart, 1999). Many people are nervous at the thought of giving a toast. Therefore, some preparation and practice can help make the event more enjoyable and memorable. Anyone called upon to give a toast should prepare ahead of time. Having in mind one or two things that set the person or event apart is an effective strategy, as well as keeping a positive tone and staying brief. It is advised that you practice in front of a mirror or in front of a friend to become more comfortable with the toast.
We lift our glasses to Ms. Becky McPherson, who has devoted 20 years to our organization. Not only have we benefited from her tireless hours building this company, but there is no way to measure how much she has touched each of our lives. So, it is Becky McPherson that we humbly toast this evening.
A variation on the toast is a roast, which is a toast that is humorous and pokes fun at the person in a friendly way. One should be aware of effective and appropriate uses of humor in such a context, and more about humor will be discussed later in this chapter.
The presenting of an award warrants a presentational speech, during which an individual awards another person with an award or prize. It is essential that the person presenting the award not only highlight the merits of the award recipient, but also point out the purpose and significance of the award being given (O’Hair & Stewart, 1999). When planning the verbal presentation, it may be appropriate to personalize the speech to make the award and event more meaningful for the recipient and the audience.
Our next award is the Outstanding Graduate Research Award, which goes to the graduate student who has made the most significant contribution to our department. The recipient of this award is certainly deserving because he does today what others do not in order to achieve tomorrow what others will not. Therefore, I proudly present this year’s Outstanding Graduate Research Award to Jeremiah Polk.
To facilitate a smooth transfer of the award to the recipient, the presenter may want to hold the award in his or her left hand while using the right to shake the recipient’s hand. The presentation of an award is usually followed by an acceptance speech. This speech gives the recipient an opportunity to show appreciation for the award as well as humility and grace (O’Hair & Stewart, 1999). Such a speech should be prepared ahead of time, if possible. In the preparation process, the recipient will have a general idea of who to thank, which should not be overlooked during such an event.
Thank you very much for presenting me with this prestigious award. I thank the faculty for their encouragement and support. I especially thank Dr. Jane Griffin for her mentorship and belief in my abilities as a graduate student and an aspiring researcher. Again, thank you for this incredible honor.
The keynote address is a speech that represents the keynote of a larger idea or theme taking place. More specifically, a conference, exposition, or convention is usually organized around a central idea, and the keynote address is what summarizes the central message revolving around the general theme. Some well-known examples of keynote speeches are those at the Republican or Democratic national conventions. The person giving the keynote address is usually a person who has earned a national or international reputation within their professional field.
The commencement speech, a type of keynote speech, is given to mark the occasion of a university or secondary school graduation ceremony during which diplomas are awarded to graduating students. This type of speech is usually given by a person who is well-known in the community, or by someone who has achieved national or international recognition for her or his contributions to society. The speaker may be a politician, an alumnus from the institution, a famous speaker, or other noteworthy figure. Many commencement audiences may appreciate a speech that is relatively brief and to the point, and many speakers provide practical, yet memorable, advice. For instance, Billie Jean King once said, “Find a mentor and be a mentor. Give back. And when people tell you not to believe in your dreams, and they say, “Why?” say, “Why not?” (Wisdom Engine, 2006).
The commencement speech is celebratory in nature in that it marks an important milestone in the graduates’ lives. At the same time it can be a call to action for its audience (Fly Little Bird, 2007). On one level, a commencement speech can bring attention to certain social or political issues of the day, such as HIV/AIDS, economic inequality, or education. Additionally, such speeches typically lay out paths the audience can take beyond their educational years (e.g., giving one’s time, taking on important causes), as well as what specific tools for change are needed for an individual to make an impact (e.g., use of the Internet, acquiring and disseminating information). Finally, commencement speeches often touch on aspects that contribute to a good life; such examples might include finding one’s passion, showing compassion to others, and appreciation of diversity. In general, the commencement speech emphasizes celebration and looking ahead toward the future.
Commemorative speeches and tributes are speeches that pay special accolades to an occasion, extraordinary person, event, idea, or monument. The speaker’s job is to reflect the emotions felt by the audience as well as underscore the reasons for the speaking event. Delivering a tribute and commemorative speech involves careful attention to language. These speeches are intended to inspire the audience, and the use of the richness of language should serve to evoke the appropriate emotions within the audience as well as the honored person(s).
There are a few things to remember when formulating and delivering a tribute or commemorative speech. First, make it short and eloquent (Letteri, 1997). In most cases, this speech should be one to five minutes long, which means the words should be chosen carefully and efficiently for impact. Second, anticipate the emotions and emotional needs of the audience, and do your best to fulfill those needs. There is a difference between the need to be festive and the need to grieve, and the speaker should use language to convey the appropriate feelings. Also, rather than focus on a great deal of information about the person, event, or thing being honored, emphasize the emotions of the audience and respect those emotions. When the speaking occasion is honoring a person, the speaker should work to balance the professional accomplishments of the honoree with his or her personal achievements. While the speech should emphasize the person’s professional work, his or her personal activities (e.g., family life, community involvement) also warrant attention in the speech.