Well, much like how you’d approach writing any other speech:
- Gather your content – brainstorm your favourite moments and best stories
- Find a theme – identify a common thread that connects your content
- Keep it succinct – stick to 8 minutes max
- Prove, don’t tell – it’s not enough to say they’re a great person – how is this true?
- The importance of humour – don’t lift yours off the internet
- The touching bit – think sentimental, not saccharine
Ok so, much like the last six decades, let’s take it stage by stage…
The key to giving an authentic, heartfelt speech is to keep it personal. Your audience want to recognise the person you’re talking about, not listen to you reel off platitudes about some generic 60-year-old.
It’s likely you’ve known this person a long time, so you should have plenty of material in your arsenal. Even so, it’s not always easy to come up with the goods on the spot. A bit like when someone asks you to name your favourite song.
If you’re a bit light on substance, you’re going to have to do some digging. Dust off old photo albums and enjoy an afternoon reminiscing, or get in touch with friends and family to ask them about their fondest memories of the person you’re writing about. This should be enough to kickstart your creativity and help you list of gems that deserve to feature in the speech.
The purpose of your speech is to remind guests why the main character is so brilliant. See if you can spot a recurring theme amongst the anecdotes you’ve brought to the surface. This will help thread together your stories and paint a fuller picture of your subject.
It could be that they’ve always unintentionally got themselves into bonkers situations – find an example from childhood/adolescence and something more recent. Or if they’re a retired teacher and you can base your speech on Lessons They’ve Taught you over the years. Then find solid anecdotes that illustrate how they’ve taught you things like patience, kindness, and so on.
Keep the theme in mind throughout and try and tie something relevant into your toast to conclude any motifs you’ve alluded to throughout.
Go over 8 minutes and you risk losing your audience, so you’re going to have to be selective about the content you choose to keep.
Even if you can recall dozens of anecdotes, resist contributing more than a few knockout ones to the speech. That’s enough to craft some strong supporting imagery without interrupting the flow of the narrative and making it sound like you’re simply ticking off dates.
Whatever you choose should serve to back up any claims you’re making about the person you’re paying tribute to, ideally in a comedic way. Keep it punchy and your audience will love you.
They’re the coolest person you know? Ok, but providing evidence will really drive that home. Stuff like… they made cardigans look edgy long before Harry Styles came on the scene, or… they can play a convincing guitar solo of Eruption by Van Halen, even while drunk.
They’re incredibly fun to be around? Give examples, such as the way there is never a dull moment with them on a trip to Lidl middle aisle, or that they once turned a car breakdown into a hilarious adventure.
This is a party, not an episode of This Is Your Life. Keep it as light and entertaining as possible.
Not everyone is a natural crowd pleaser and speaking in public makes most of us nervous. But the beauty of a celebratory speech is that everyone is there to have fun so there’s goodwill from the off.
Break the ice with some humour that establishes your theme. Don’t rely on dodgy jokes off the internet. Chances are at a 60th, there are people in the crowd who’ll recognise them as recycled!
In fact, you don’t have to come up with ‘jokes’ at all per se. Just be as real as possible about the star of your story, while maybe exaggerating some of their more interesting quirks.
Look for inconsistencies in their character. Are they quite serious by nature but they’re happy to be given a glamorous ‘makeover’ when the grandchildren come to visit?
Ask yourself what makes them different and think back to seminal moments or eras of their lives. Consider their fashion choices over the decades – were they a mod or rocker? Did they pull off a mullet in the 80s and are now bemused at today’s generation acting like they invented it?
A warmed-up audience will respond warmly to some well-timed sentiment close to the end of your speech. Most of us accept that some affectionate teasing is the best way to pay tribute to someone you love, but it’s also nice to show your softer side with some genuine praise.
By now, the crowd will be running high on nostalgia, so trade on those good feelings and speak honestly about what you truly admire and appreciate about your person. Maybe you’re truly in awe of their Illustrious career or you’re moved by the years they’ve spent helping others through difficult times.
Make sure your speech adds to all those memories you’ve mentioned that have lasted a lifetime.