I worked as a mobile disc jockey during my college years.
My Decembers were spent spinning tunes at dozens of Christmas and holiday parties, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to hear a wide variety of toasts. Years of careful observation taught me that there’s no one formula for creating a warm holiday toast that uplifts and encourages attendees.
Some toasts were funny and filled people with mirth. Others were more heartfelt, making people feel part of something meaningful. Others yet were businesslike but appreciative, making people feel that their hard work wasn’t going unnoticed. Those varied styles demonstrate that there are many ways of delivering an effective holiday party toast.
Still, there are some common traits of a good toast. They include:
1. Keep it short.
No one wants to hear you ramble for 20 minutes when what they really want is to mingle, eat, and drink. Try not to exceed three to five minutes.
2. Do it early.
Offer your toast once most people have arrived, but before people have had time to make their fourth trip to the bar. A bunch of drunk or pleasantly buzzed people can make for a rowdy audience.
3. Be warm.
Your primary job as the person offering the toast is to set a warm tone. Don’t worry if you’re not a “perfect” speaker—few people are—instead, focus on making every person in attendance feel like a valued and welcome guest. If you convey sincerity, odds are your toast will be successful.
4. Consider beginning with a story.
Few things put an audience to sleep faster than generalizations. We’ve all heard people begin toasts with something like: “I’d like to thank you all for coming. What a year we’ve had! We had a few ups and downs, but we all worked hard to ZZZZZZZZZZZ.” Instead, begin with a single moment that summed up your company’s year for you, such as in this brief anecdote:
“In February, we were all hit with some tough news – our biggest client was terminating its contract with our firm, resulting in a 40 percent drop in revenue. I was deeply worried at the time about what that would mean for all of us and spent that whole week in a daze. I couldn’t sleep one night, so I went into work at 5 a.m. When I arrived, I was surprised to see Tracy Miller sitting at her desk. For those of you who don’t know Tracy, she works in accounts payable. I asked her what she was doing there so early, and she said, ‘Boss, I think I figured out a way to save some money to get us through this rough patch.’ I found her dedication remarkable—it almost brought me to tears—and it was at that very moment that I knew for the first time how we were going to make it: through you
5. Acknowledge someone unexpected. (This is optional.)
As in the example above, some of the best toasts I’ve ever heard praise an unsung hero: an accounts payable clerk, a facilities worker, or a mailroom employee. That’s a particularly appealing device when the person offering the toast is a top executive, as it bestows appreciation onto people who typically go about their work without any fanfare.
6. Touch upon the year’s successes.
This isn’t the moment to deliver an annual report or a laundry list. But it’s a perfect time to acknowledge your company’s major successes during the year—briefly
. Don’t spend more than one minute here.
7. Avoid being a downer.
If your company struggled or went through a transition this year, it’s OK to acknowledge the elephant in the room. But this is a holiday party
—so you’re not allowed to bring the audience down. Acknowledge a challenging circumstance briefly if you must, but do it through the prism of optimism, trust in your staff’s abilities, and a can-do spirit that will guide your future success.
8. Be original.
Introduce a sense of fun to your toast by introducing an original element. For example, you might have a quiz in which attendees shout out the answers. Or you might do a “highlights of the year” section by summarizing each month in a single sentence (even better if you can make it rhyme).
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9. Express gratitude and acknowledge significant others.
Offer gratitude for the work of the people in the room. But as anyone who works 70-hour weeks knows, the people who suffer most aren’t the employees themselves, but their spouses, partners, children, and other family members. A holiday party is a perfect occasion to acknowledge and thank them for their sacrifice.
10. Offer a toast.
Finally, offer a toast. You can use a generic one (“To a happy, healthy, and prosperous year ahead”) or a more traditional one (“May you live as long as you like, and have all you like as long as you live”). At the beginning of your toast, raise your glass as a visual cue for the audience to do the same. To avoid awkwardness at the end of the toast, either offer a closing line (“Have fun tonight!”) or cue the DJ to start the music.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.