You have really been enjoying yourself at the party. Your neighbor and host, Deepak, has created a wonderful, celebratory atmosphere. You and 40 others share his joy as he sends his son Ram off to university, with a full-tuition scholarship, to study engineering. Deepak stands and taps the side of his glass with a spoon.
“Family and friends, thank you all so much for sharing this time of celebration with us. For years I have been telling Ram about the importance of studying and working hard, and now it has paid off. In this room are people who have made a significant contribution to his success, and I am compelled to let one of them tell us about how they have always encouraged my son to pursue his dream. They have become very skillful at speech and communication, having been a Toastmaster for several years. So to say a few words, here is…” Then the unthinkable happens. He utters YOUR NAME!
Perhaps you have never had this experience, but trust me…as your friends, neighbors and loved ones learn about your expertise in speech and communication, it is entirely possible that at a function, event, informal get-together or reception, someone will ask you to…SAY A FEW WORDS. If, and when that happens, what do you do?
This is not a Table Topic at a Toastmasters meeting. This is your neighbor asking you to talk about the ways that you have encouraged his son as he struggled to make a career choice. This is your mother asking you to tell a solemn gathering your fondest memories about dear departed Aunt Alice. This is your brother asking you to tell a semi-sober audience about how hard you worked to help him get back together with your best friend, his girlfriend …whom he has just married. This is the company’s Senior Vice President asking you to give the company’s best wishes to the retiree who has worked beside you for 12 years. This is your moment to pull out every tool in your speaking toolbox. But there’s a problem. Nobody told YOU that you were going to have to SAY A FEW WORDS. So again I ask…what do you do? Here are a few ideas that may help you, should you ever find yourself in this situation.
1. REMAIN CALM.
You know that you will have to give an organized speech and you might initially get nervous. Remember Deepak? He has just told 40 people that you are a skilled communicator, and the pressure is on! But relax. You have the tools to construct what you need.
2. USE YOUR CUES.
What did Deepak say again? “they have always encouraged my son to pursue his dream.” That’s your cue. As you SLOWLY make your way forward, begin to mentally construct a short speech with the main point of encouragement with Ram as the central character. recall memories of what Ram was like growing up, and how you saw his zest for his chosen profession develop.
3. TELL A STORY.
People want to hear stories, because they make emotional connections. If you are the sibling talking about how you helped your brother re-unite with his girlfriend, re-live some the experiences involved, and use humor whenever possible. If you’re talking about the retiring co-worker, recall some of the ups and downs of 12 years together at the company, but be sure to avoid any references to layoffs and firings or office politics. The atmosphere must remain congratulatory and celebratory. If you are offering memories of Aunt Alice, call to memory days from your youth, when she would invite you over to her house to help her make cookies and all the fun you had making a total mess of her kitchen.
4. TIE IT ALL TOGETHER.
As with any other speech, tie the whole speech together with closing remarks that put the focus back on the central character. Formalities such as those used at Toastmasters meetings and events won’t be necessary.
Your speech, IN RESPONSE TO Deepak’s sudden request, could unfold thus:
“I remember when Deepak and his family moved in next door. Ram and his sister Rehna must have been about nine and seven. Where did ten years go? My son Jeff was so happy that another boy was living nearby and they became fast friends. Ram was always trying to figure out how things worked, and if anybody on our street put a small appliance out with the trash, the collectors never saw it. I began to call Ram ‘Tink’ because he was always tinkering around with something. So I let him and Jeff turn my garage into their personal workshop. My car spent many a night in the rain because of one of their projects. I saw something in Ram then. That gleam in his eye and the way he perked up at the thought of figuring out how things worked. Deepak and I used to have conversations, wondering aloud where this would all lead. And the questions Ram would ask! I was just happy that he had an interest in the field in which I was working and I was always happy to give him my old trade magazines and answer his questions as best as I could. He must have been…oh I don’t know, 15 when I noticed that while Jeff wanted to learn how to drive, Ram wanted to know how cars worked. Jeff wanted the car to go and Ram wanted to know what MADE the car go! And Deepak and Lakshmi…such wonderful parents. They never once felt threatened by Ram’s interest in my work. Instead they were delighted that he seemed to have found his niche so early in his life. They are proud of him…and so am I.
Ram, as you start down a new path on your life’s journey, keep focused on your dream. Work as hard as you can. Learn all you can. And never forget to encourage others in their dreams as well. I wish you success in university and for the rest of your life. I think you’re figuring out how this thing called ‘life’ works. CONGRATULATIONS!”
I confess that I just made up the short speech above. But here’s good news. You have an advantage. You will actually have LIVED the experiences in your speech, and you will be even better equipped to share those experiences with those who will hear you.
You may never be called upon to deliver impromptu remarks, but if it DOES happen, apply these four simple techniques, REMAIN CALM, USE YOUR CUES, TELL A STORY, and TIE IT ALL TOGETHER. Then you’ll be equipped and ready when someone asks you to SAY A FEW WORDS.