Being asked to give a farewell speech at work, particularly if it is for a boss that you have worked with for a long time, is an honour. You’ll want to do the best job you can, both for your boss and all your colleagues who will be there.
Here are some practical pointers for getting prepared and giving a speech worthy of the occasion.
Structuring your speech
It is good to start by sayings something about your association with your boss as this explains why you have been asked to speak and set the tone for the event.
I then recommend covering three points of importance. The first may be serious or reflective, but make sure that at least the last one is humorous or light-hearted. For a short speech, you’ll need just three anecdotes illustrating three aspects or periods of your boss’s time with the organisation, or three characteristics they’re known for, two memorable achievements and something that went wrong (you get the idea). With additional time you could make the stories longer or add further anecdotes to each section.
Round off your speech by raising your glass and giving a toast.
For someone you’ve been working with for a while, you’ll have plenty of experiences to draw on. Set a timer and give yourself five minutes and quickly jot down as many ideas as you can come up with.
For example, you might remember when the two of you were held up because of a visa error and spent a huge amount of time talking to border officials. Scribble down Visa/Airport and move on. You can then review your list and decided which are best for the occasion. It is also good to ask colleagues to suggest the most memorable occasion they can think of. You’ll know which to include when you review the overall balance of your speech.
Putting stories together
Many organisations hold team building events. If your usually polite, serious boss was left trapped on a zip-wire there is likely to be some humour to exploit (remember Boris Johnson’s London Olympics escapade)!
The key question is how much detail to include.
Consider TV dramas. Shows about the legal or medical professions don’t show the humdrum aspects of the job. You won’t see a whole episode of Line of Duty where a witness sits looking through mugshots trying to find the shooter, and nothing else happened!
Instead, you’ll see a few moments of the witness with the pictures, maybe with a wall clock ticking to establish it’s been a long time. Then you get the “Aha!” moment.
The point is that you’ll need a bit of shorthand and cut things down to a few elements which establish the context, followed by the reveal where you remind your audience of what happened.
Why the event?
It is worth considering what a leaving do is for. It’s not something the business sells to customers. It’s not a profit centre. It’s a cost. If they want to lavish money on the staff who are attending they could add it to a year-end bonus and let you decide how you want to spend it. However, that won’t achieve what a group celebration achieves: the bonding of a group. When you appeal to your audience’s emotions by talking about a common experience then you bring everyone together.
Of course, the leaving do is about saying farewell to your boss, but it can also help people to bond as a group. Shared experience is the basis of bonding. Again, this can be a serious thing (e.g., when a group has served together in war zone), but it can also be non-serious. The humour you choose to include can be an important part of your speech that taps into people’s feeling about the organisation.
Finding the right humour
If your manager is retiring, it’s not the time for a lot of heavy experiences which appeal to deep emotions. Nor is it the time for metaphorical I-climbed-the -mountain inspiration. As in the outline above, you can remind your audience of a metaphorical mountain where your retiring manager took charge and you all climbed together. However, I recommend primarily focusing on the lighter fun stuff.
Inevitably, what’s funny to a group who experienced it might not be so hilarious to people outside the group. There’s a saying people sometime use when a funny line fails to create laughter: “You had to be there”. It may be a cliché, but it something to bear in mind when you’re connecting with your audience.
Good luck as you prepare your farewell speech. Perhaps you will bring a tear to people’s eyes as well as giving them some moments of relaxation and laugher as you say your collective goodbyes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paul Carroll DTM is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are almost 400 clubs and 8,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org