How to Make an After-Dinner Speech

You have been notified that you are to respond to an after-dinner toast at a dinner soon to be given.

Naturally, you wish to speak well. Here are some directions that will help you:

First, consider this list of “Don’ts.”

1. Don’t say you are not prepared.
2. Don’t say you are surprised that you should be called upon.
3. Don’t say that you misunderstood the subject.
4. Don’t say that you are embarrassed.
5. Don’t tell an utterly stale story.
6. Don’t talk at length.
7. Don’t ridicule any person, present or absent.
8. Don’t read any notes.
9. Don’t extol yourself.
10. Don’t make jokes at your own expense.
11. Don’t be vulgar.
12. Don’t be flippant about deeply serious matters.
13. Don’t talk utter nonsense all the time.
14. Don’t speak so that you cannot be heard.
15. Don’t be dull.

This is a long list of “Don’t,” but it could be made even longer.

Now turn to what you should do.

1. Prepare yourself as well as possible.

Even if you are not notified until a few minutes before you speak you should make a short mental or written outline of what you will say. If you have more time you should make a careful plan of every part of your speech, and should think it all out in detail.

2. Begin by telling an appropriate humorous anecdote.

Whenever you read a story that makes you laugh note it down, or cut it out. Have several of these stories with you at all times, and you will never be in doubt what story to tell. Tell your story somewhat at length, in such a way that it will have the effect of climax. Show the connection between your story and the occasion that is being celebrated. Tell several humorous anecdotes, if
you wish, but in every case make some definite connection with the thought of the occasion.

3. Lead to a consideration of some one serious topic.

You should first make a thesis, a serious statement that can be expressed in a single sentence. Present this thesis and then support it by humor, by specific instance, by definite proof, or by any method you please.

4. End your speech with the presentation of your serious thought in its best form.

Make your closing sentences particularly strong and impressive.

In general you will do well to follow these “Do’s.”

1. Prepare your speech carefully.
2. Speak on the topic assigned.
3. Speak so that all can hear.
4. Begin with a humorous anecdote.
5. Tell several anecdotes, if you wish.
6. Lead to one serious thought.
7. Speak briefly.
8. Speak optimistically.
9. Speak of principles.
10. Be complimentary.
11. Make your expression reflect good humor.
12. Prophesy good fortune to come.
13. Be interesting.
14. Develop climax.
15. End your speech impressively.


Think out a five minute after-dinner speech on “The Old School,” to be given at a meeting of your Alumni Association.

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