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How to give a great Christmas speech

Does your colleague’s Christmas speech leave you inspired or in tears?

Have your words of intended encouragement come out crass and cringe-worthy?

And were the remarks made before or after alcohol consumption?

Yes it’s that time of year again when the Christmas party throws up controversy, rumour and scandal.

This event is meant to be a happy social gathering at the end of another busy year.

Do you or your colleagues want to get the right message across in their Christmas speech in the run up to Christmas?

Here are five public speaking rules that will help you hit the mark with your Christmas speech rather than hide in the toilets as the party goes into full swing.

Five Rules to Follow

Rule One: Say Thanks

christmas speech communication skills training scotland thank you.

One of the most underused yet valuable words in the English language is “thanks”.

I worked for 14 years for four newspapers, a radio station and three TV channels before anybody ever thanked me for a day’s work.

Years down the line Simon Betts, producer of BBC’s World’s Strongest Man, took the trouble to say what I’d done that had impressed him.

I felt uncomfortable as I was so unfamiliar with the experience.

I often work with the Chief Executive of a large retailer twice a year at conferences.

He uses his last answer of a 20-minute interview to thank the staff for another 12 months of hard work and dedication.

It’s the right thing to do and people appreciate being recognised.

I work extensively with a large American-based company that has recognition at the heart of its training.

People love it and grow in stature in front of colleagues.

So whether giving a Christmas speech to colleagues, a speech at a night out or end-of-year celebration, take the time to thank people who’ve done a great job.

Rule Two: Catch people doing things right, then publicise it

christmas speech communication skills training scotland man with bow on head and poppy.

In the UK, we need to do so much more to catch people doing things right, rather than catch them doing things wrong.

We all have the power to breathe belief into people and that’s one way of doing it.

When doing communication skills training with the St George Retail Bank in Australia last year, I was being driven through Sydney by the General Manager, Andy Fell.

All of a sudden, he pulled over and said he needed to take a picture.

I was surprised that the Australian landscape had caused such a reaction but it was an employee who’d caught his eye.

She was out on the street showing a customer how to use the ATM, the “hole-in-the-wall”.

Minutes later, Andy had posted it on the company’s intranet site.

In his post he highlighted it as a practical example of how to treat customers and get out from behind the counter to help them in any way.

christmas speech communication skills training scotland woman singing karaoke.

At your company’s Christmas function, give practical examples in your Christmas speech of deeds you’ve heard of where your colleagues have done the right thing and led by example.

When you’re specific, people can see what you’re talking about.

It highlights their positive behaviours– and shows others what’s required to succeed.

Rule Three:  The only safe butt of humour is you

christmas speech communication skills training scotland two men funny faces joke.

I’ve been in the room when the speaker starts to make funny remarks about members of the audience.

I say “funny”, but funny to whom?

The speaker or the audience?

One of our golden rules on the presentation skills courses we run at Pink Elephant Communications at our Glasgow studio is to lead with what’s in it for the audience.

This is a principle often broken in Christmas speeches.

“Let me say a few words about Christine” is a phrase with danger written all over it.

“David’s going to love this next story”

Will Christine find it funny?

Will David love the story?

Unlikely if the joke’s at their expense.

So the only safe humour is self-deprecating humour, where the finger of fun is pointed at us, rather than the audience.

christmas speech communication skills training scotland fingers pointing at man.

When I worked for the Irish-based sports broadcaster Setanta, I would begin at charity nights by saying:

“My Dad when I worked for the BBC used to ask how he could find my programme on a Saturday early evening.

I’d say just to press button number 1 on the remote.

Now I ask if he can find channel 435.”

The joke was on me, even though Setanta paid better than the BBC ever did.

So to avoid tears, tantrums or tittle-tattle, have a laugh at your expense during your Christmas speech, rather than the audience’s.

Rule Four:  Smile, you’re on camera

christmas speech communication skills scotland training man with camera thumbs up.

 You need only go back a few weeks to a wedding in the England team hotel when Captain Wayne Rooney joined in the celebrations in a sociable if perhaps over-enthusiastic manner.

A private event became public, casting doubts on his professionalism.

A few weeks earlier, one of our directors was at a wedding in the south of England and was chatting to the now World Number One tennis player Andy Murray, in between guests requesting photos and autographs.

But a stone-cold sober Murray avoided the possibility of any embarrassment by behaving in an exemplary manner.

Because most people have a phone that records footage, anybody now can be famous, or infamous, within minutes of a transgression.

christmas speech communication skills training scotland woman taking photo with smartphone.

We have to consider how our behaviour would look on the front page of a tabloid or on TV because that’s where it could end up.

Most of us have a lower profile than Rooney or Murray, but I recently witnessed a company representative doing a drunken Facebook Live broadcast from a holiday in the Greek Islands.

Several times she referenced the company and its products, each time damaging her and potentially their reputation.

So behave in public.

You’re always representing your company.

Your future prospects may depend on it.

Rule Five:  Speak before drinking, then stay off social media

christmas speech communication skills training scotland man balancing with vodka.

Some may say they want ‘Dutch Courage’ before doing any public speaking.

Presenting TV programmes for over two decades, I much preferred having my wits about me, with clear eyes and a clear mind.

If you are going to give a Christmas speech or toast, do it before you have a few drinks.

You’ll be able to remember to thank people, catch them doing something right, give examples of their loyalty and dedication, and have a laugh at your expense.

Then you can relax and unwind.

Some final words of caution

christmas speech communication skills training scotland social media.

If you then go home and take to social media, posting pictures of you and your drunken colleagues.

The sarcastic, critical or libelous comments as captions to your photo gallery could cause the damage to grow even as the effect of the alcohol recedes.

Lock away you laptop, tablet or phone until your head clears because recent history is littered with drunken comments damaging reputation.

Having said all that, enjoy the party and celebrate your success and that of those around you.

Let the conversation at the coffee machine the next day be about somebody else’s indiscretions rather than yours.


Bill McFarlan is Executive Chairman of media training and presentation skills training firm Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit: sophiahung327, / CC0Tyne & Wear Archives & MuseumsMarianne Bevis.: ROGER :.Jason A. Howie via / CC BY,  Simone LovatiTakashi(aes256) via / CC BY-SA


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