Are you ready to say a few words at festive events?

By Paul Carroll, Toastmasters International

As a business owner there’s a good chance that you will be holding and attending year-end events, parties and of course, family gatherings. It also means that you’ll need to ‘say a few words’ to a handful of people or to a larger crowd.

For a celebration you’ll need to reach your audience’s emotions.  You can’t do this by sharing your data analysis. For public speaking you need what is called “pathos”: words that will appeal to and connect with the emotions of the group you’re speaking to.

Pathos is from the Greek for “experience” and found in English words like sym-path-y (sym “with”) and em-path-y. (em “in”). Sympathy and empathy are what you’re trying to evoke when making an appeal to emotions. Fellow feeling and understanding based on trying to see someone else’s perspective are how we reach the heart.

How can you ‘say a few words’ and bring people together at a celebratory event?

Prepare your outline

In any speech for an occasion, your easy prep guide is:

  • Your association with the event (setting the tone of the occasion and why you’re speaking in the first place)
  • Three points on the importance (or specialness) of the occasion.
    The first point may be serious or reflective, but at least the last one should be a humorous or light-hearted anecdote

  • Finish with a toast which summarises the event. 

Shared experiences

Shared experience is the basis of bonding.

If you’re called upon to say a few words at the office Christmas Party, it’s not the time for the heavy emotional experiences or for I-climbed-the-metaphorical-mountain inspiration.  You can remind your audience of a metaphorical-mountain you all climbed together this year, but I recommend focussing on the fun shared experiences. This because one of the oft-overlooked aspects of pathos is humour.


Of course, what’s funny to a group who experienced it might not seem so rib-tickling to anyone outside the group. As they say when a funny line fails to draw laughter: “You had to be there”. This may be cliché, but for speakers reaching out to an audience it’s very true.

You can test my theory. Tell a group of friends from outside your workplace the funniest incident you can recall happening at work. Or, tell a group of (non-fishing) colleagues something hilarious that happened on the expedition with your fishing buddies. The lack of common experience will mean they won’t see the humour, even though it’s obvious to you.

Speaking off the cuff

It may sound strange, but if you’re going to a business event (particularly a year-end party) it’s a good time to prepare what to say whether or not you’re not called upon to speak.  You might just offer a toast of your own to a half dozen people around you.

You can prepare to speak impromptu! Reflect on events and try to recall something outstanding. Remember, you can bring your own point of view. If someone else brings in the same event as you do, you can talk about it from your perspective. How did the people closest to you work through it? Your audience will then share in a broader, richer retelling.

Create impact

TV shows about doctors, lawyers, police etc. don’t show the routine elements of the job. Was there ever an entire episode of Suits where a paralegal sat at a table covered in documents and looked through them trying to find important points? For the hour?  No, you just see the “Aha! Got it!” moment.

My point is that you must use a bit of shorthand and cut events down to a few key elements.

When  you’re reminding colleagues of that time leaflets had been printed to send to clients about “market volitility ” and strategies for dealing  with it, and an intern (with English as a third language) pointed out that “volatility” is misspelled (on the front cover no less),  what parts do you keep/leave out?

I thought it was funny (later, much later) that nobody had read the front cover. The fact that the intern pointed it out, noticing a spelling error “in his third language” was the icing on the cake whenever I retold this story.

Feelings are the key

Particularly when the occasion is celebratory, feelings matter. You want to touch people’s hearts. By using stories about shared experience and being humorous —pathos— while you’re sharing your “few words” you’ll sense the bond you all share.


Paul Carroll 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 more than 400 clubs and 10,000 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

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