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 see 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 the 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.
In this post, you’ll learn ten things to do when delivering a Christmas or holiday party toast.
1. Keep It Short
No one wants to hear you ramble for 20 minutes when what they really want is to mingle with colleagues, 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
Little puts an audience to sleep more 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 drove into work at 5:00 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 (Optional)
As in the example above, some of the best toasts I’ve ever seen 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, since 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 okay 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 (Optional)
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). For any of these techniques (or if you decide to show a year-end highlight video), the same advice holds: Keep it short.
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 families. A holiday party is a perfect moment 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.
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When I ask new clients to tell me what their company does, this is the type of answer I typically hear:
“We are the premier service on the east coast that delivers groceries to clients on the same day they place their order. We are able to reach millions of homes, since we don’t restrict our deliveries to a single store—we work with many different grocery chains in different areas.”
That’s not a bad answer. It contains a lot of useful information, even if it lacks a bit of inspiration. But there’s a better way to create instant understanding—and capture some of the cachet of larger, more well-established brands. Imagine, for example, if the client in the example above had started his answer this way:
“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery.”
The more complete answer might say:
“We’re the iTunes of grocery delivery. Just as iTunes instantly delivers music that you can select from many different music labels, we deliver groceries that our customers can select from many different grocery stores on the same day they place their orders. That gives our customers more choices than any other company, as all of our competitors here on the east coast only deliver from one grocery store.”
Advantages of Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails
The biggest, most immediate advantage of referencing a larger brand is that doing so can help your audience understand what you do instantly. The mention of iTunes creates immediate context for customers, allowing them to understand what you do and how you’re different.
There’s another big advantage. iTunes is popular, so by referencing it, you’ll immediately transfer some of its positive brand image and “hipness” onto your brand.
Cautions When Riding a Bigger Brand’s Coattails
First, I’d only use a well-established brand. That’s safer than referencing the latest tech darling which could go bankrupt six months from now.
Second, only use a brand from outside your industry. If you’re a tech company, you can provide “Nordstrom-level” service. If you’re a tools manufacturer, you can say “we’re as solid as a Ford truck.”
Finally, I’d stay away from using the reference to a third-party brand in print and in any marketing materials, since doing so could attract the other company’s notice or create legal issues. A passing analogy to a non-competitor during a media interview or speech shouldn’t be problematic though, says trademark attorney Erik Pelton.
I’m finally on Google+. Let’s connect! Here’s the link.
Bill Nowling, the spokesperson for Detroit’s emergency manager, sent reporters a memo recently instructing them to stop leaving him voice mails. JimRomenesko.com has the full text; an excerpt appears below:
To better assist you and your organization with media questions and interview requests, I am instituting a new “contact procedure” that I think will streamline the process and get you the information you need in a timely fashion…
1. Going forward, all media requests (for information, for interviews, for directions) will be handled via e-mail at: EMMediarequest@detroitmi.gov.
2. If you have a media question, please send an email to: EMMediarequest@detroitmi.gov. Please be as detailed as possible as to the issue about which you are calling or the specific questions you have. Also include a specific deadline for responding back.
3. Please don’t leave a voice mail message. Believe it or not, VM just adds delay in responding, especially when most messages simply say “call me back.” It is not unusual for me to have 25 or more VMs waiting to be heard at any given time.
You might expect me to blast Mr. Nowling. The truth is, I’m empathetic.
Like him, I find telephone voice mails to be the least efficient way to reach me. I respond to emails and tweets much more quickly, and occasionally forget to check my voice mail when I’m out of town. Plus, he’s right – a simple “can you give me a call” voice mail message can be more efficiently delivered via email, text, or tweet.
The biggest problem with his new policy may not be the policy itself, but the manner in which he communicated it. As an example, here’s a comment Nowling left on the website Deadline Detroit:
“I hate VM. It’s impersonal, inefficient and it fills up two or three times a day…I want to talk to reporters, but I don’t want to waste their time or mine by not being prepared; if I can cut one just one extra return call for each call that comes by being prepared to answer the question when I call back, then I will be able to handle more media calls in a day.”
In his full one-paragraph comment on that website, he used the words “my,” “mine” or “I” a whopping 17 times, showing just how self-centered his message was.
Imagine if he had framed his message as a request rather than a formal procedure instead:
“In order to serve your audience, you deserve the fastest-possible response time from me. Because I’m not always in the office, I’m afraid that voice mails don’t always get played as quickly as they should (plus, the voice mail box fills up quickly, preventing some of you from leaving messages). Therefore, in an effort to serve you better, please email your requests to me. In return, I promise to be responsive to your emails in a timely manner. And if you opt to leave a voice mail message, I’ll do my best to listen to it quickly—but please know that’s not always possible and it’s proven to be a much less efficient way to reach me.”
That framing makes it less about him (“I hate VM”) and more about serving the media and the public (“You deserve the fastest-possible response time from me.”)
Of course, that only works if he follows through. One anonymous commenter identifying himself as a reporter on PR Newser writes:
“This would be perfectly reasonable IF Nowling responded to e-mails, which he rarely does. At one point he wanted to communicate by text message, which is insane. And let’s be clear: this isn’t some corporate flack we are talking about. He is essentially the press secretary for the city of Detroit, which is seeking bankruptcy protection under federal law. He is a public servant, and should be responding to the public–and the media–accordingly. In other words, he has no right to be arrogant.”
I have reservations about Mr. Nowling’s policy and am not sure it builds the positive press relations that anyone in a public position should desire. Perhaps he could have made clear that he doesn’t mind people trying to reach him by phone—reporters have the right to contact him using their preferred method, too—but that if he doesn’t pick up, email might be the next-fastest option.
What do you think? Does a public servant have a right to instill a “no voice mail” policy? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
I’ve been writing the “worst video media disaster” series since August 2010. This is the first one I’m embarrassed to publish.
The graphic nature of this post makes me uneasy—but personal discomfort aside, this month’s worst video media disaster wasn’t even a close call.
Toronto’s Rob Ford—the crack-smoking, drunk-driving, alcohol-abusing mayor of Canada’s largest city—used vulgar language to deny charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek.
“Oh, and the last thing was Olivia Gondek. It says that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek. I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married, I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
It’s important to remember that no one asked the sue-happy mayor that specific question during the media scrum (he was asked about “allegations” in general). He brought the topic up himself and could have chosen to respond in any manner he wanted. The casual nature with which Ford made those stunningly disrespectful remarks show that he probably speaks with similar vulgarity on a regular basis.
A primary rule of crisis management is to never use the negative language of your accusers in your defense, since doing so only reminds the audience of the charge. In this case, he could have simply said: “The charges made regarding Olivia Gondek are false.”
Or, if he had even a single gentlemanly instinct and opted to respect his former aide’s privacy, he could have left her name out entirely: “There are reports out today about something I allegedly said to a former assistant. They are false.”
Ford capped off his ignominious day with yet another spousal indignity. He called a press conference to apologize for using such graphic language to describe his sex life. As he stood before reporters, his humiliated wife stood on the side of the stage, her eyes cast downward.
Don’t commit your own media disaster! Join our small-group media training workshop in Washington, D.C. on February 3, 2014! View details here.
I rarely watch television commercials. We have a DVR at home, so it takes a particularly good ad to make me remove my finger from the fast-forward button.
One series of commercials here in New York makes me stop and watch every time. These ads pack an emotional punch. Perhaps I’m going soft, but a couple of these reduced me to tears.
Their power comes from their raw authenticity and vulnerability. They feature real people—patients and hospital employees; young and old; sick and healthy. They’re unusual, in that rough takes and linguistic imperfections are left in. In one dramatic case, the hospital even ran an ad about a child in their care who died—an unusual and even risky promotional device for a hospital—but in this case, an extremely effective one.
Four of the one-minute ads are below. They’re worth watching.
Danion Jones, who was treated for a brain tumor:
Jean Miller, a unit clerk in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU):
P.J. Hermida, a patient whose disease prevented her from walking:
Matthew Long, a patient who was injured in a bad accident several years ago:
According to the website Creativity:
“New York-Presbyterian’s ‘Amazing Things Are Happening Here’ campaign, through its agency Munn Rabot and production company Lost Highway Films, has been running since 2009.”
“David Feinberg, VP and chief marketing officer for New York-Presbyterian, says: ‘Consumer response has been so remarkable because these are real people telling real stories in their own words. We have worked very hard to eliminate hype and hyperbole, so their honesty comes through loud and clear.’”
These ads offer an important insight into selecting the right spokesperson to communicate on behalf of your company, organization, or agency. Sometimes, that person is an executive or subject matter expert. But as these commercials prove, sometimes third-party surrogates can be your best external advocates.
These ads also offer one additional lesson for media spokespersons and public speakers: authenticity matters. In these ads, verbal slips and imperfections didn’t get in the way—they added to the message.
And the fact that they ran an ad about a child they were unable to save is remarkable, in that it exposes their medical limits. But that, too, doesn’t get in the way. I would want my child to be treated at a hospital that cares that much about its young patients. The authenticity of the commercials made me believe, and I suspect it made a lot of other people believe, as well.
Disclaimer: I was treated at New York-Presbyterian for an injury I sustained in 2008. The medical team was sensational. I no longer have any active connection to the hospital, or to any employee or agency related to it.
I’ll be back after the Thanksgiving break. For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, may it be a happy and healthy one!
What did you think of these ads? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
I recently received a question from John Kelley, a novelist whose debut book The Fallen Snow has gotten terrific reviews. He asks: “What does one do if a speaking engagement is shortened, perhaps dramatically, at the last minute?”
There’s little more disheartening than planning and practicing a presentation only to have your boss or a meeting organizer tell you at the last minute you need to chop it in half.
A few years ago, I experienced that firsthand. I was the third of three speakers scheduled to speak during a 50-minute conference breakout session. The previous two speakers both went long, and as I sat awaiting my turn, I watched helplessly as the minutes ticked away. What was supposed to be my twenty-minute section was quickly reduced to eight minutes.
Although it may be painful to have your talk cut at the last minute, it may offer you an advantage, too.
In my case, the two previous speakers had overstayed their welcome just a bit. My eight minutes, in contrast, went by quickly, so my talk came across to the audience as a content-packed burst of energy. As a result, I left my audience wanting more, always a more enviable position than staying too long and wearing them down.
So the first piece of advice I have for John is to remember that sometimes a shortened session can work in your favor. More tactically, though, here are five additional things to keep in mind:
1. Identify The “One Thing”
Before your talk, you should make a plan in case your time gets shortened. One easy way to do that is to identify the “one thing” you absolutely want the audience to know, even if your hour-long talk is shortened to five minutes. You should also think through various scenarios in advance (e.g. what to cut if you lose 15 or 30 minutes).
2. Don’t Rush
It’s a natural instinct: You have a lot of content but less time than you expected, so you increase your pace to make everything fit. It’s a bad idea. Your goal is still to share valuable information with the audience, and you’ll have a tougher time doing that if you don’t speak at a deliberate pace, with pauses, that allow audience members to absorb your information. Plus, your effectiveness will be hampered by a stressed, harried delivery.
3. Drop A Main Point, Not The Examples
Let’s say you want to make three main points during your talk. Some speakers facing a time crunch still opt to make their three points—but in order to make room, they cut all of their examples, case studies, anecdotes, and audience interactions (you know, the interesting stuff). It’s far better to lose a main point or two and supplement the one(s) that remain with the supporting content that makes them interesting.
4. Don’t Announce The Time Cut To Your Audience
Doing so screams “amateur!” and unnecessarily calls out the host, moderator, and/or other speakers. Just exhibit your grace under pressure, and the audience will probably notice.
5. Direct Them To Additional Resources
You may be able to direct the audience to information you weren’t able to cover in your shortened talk. Mention where they can find additional resources. In John’s case, let’s say he had been planning to read two sections of his novel during a book reading. He could say: “I’m only going to read one section today. But if you decide to read the book, I suggest you pay special attention to pages 152-159. You’ll see on those pages that I gave you more information about the main character’s childhood. I did that deliberately there, because…”
Hope that helps, John (and everyone else)! Thanks for reading the blog.
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Fifty years ago today—on November 22, 1963—President John F. Kennedy was murdered while riding in an open-air motorcade in Dallas.
Moments after he was shot, First Lady Jackie Kennedy climbed atop the back of the car in what has now become an iconic photograph. According to several witnesses, she did so in order to recover pieces of her husband’s skull, which had been blown onto the trunk. “They have killed my husband,” she said. “I have his brains in my hand.”
Less than five years later, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed after winning California’s 1968 Democratic presidential primary.
In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate and Alabama Governor George Wallace was paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet.
In September 1975, two women tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford on two separate occasions.
In 1978, a gunman murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk.
In March 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. came perilously close to murdering President Ronald Reagan.
In January 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fought for her life after being shot in the head at a Tucson “meet the candidate” event.
We live in a nation with a bloody history of violence against political figures. Before Kennedy, Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley were also murdered while serving in office.
So on this 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, I’d like to make a plea to politicians, pundits, and other fellow citizens to forever swear off any use of violent words or images against their political rivals. As an example, you may remember that Sarah Palin was embroiled in controversy for having sent out this “crosshairs” flier months before the Giffords shooting, which mentioned her by name and placed crosshairs over her district.
To be clear, there is no evidence linking this flier and the shooting. Sarah Palin was not to blame. I offer it only as an example of violent imagery.
But given America’s violent history, similarly violent words and images should be shunned — not solely because they can inspire violence, but also because they show an utter disrespect and disregard for those who have served in a public position and paid the ultimate price for having done so.
The next time you see politicians or partisans using violent images or words, think of 34-year-old Jackie Kennedy crawling on top of that vehicle in Dallas to gather pieces of her husband’s brain. Then, use your voice to condemn them for their historical ignorance and stunning insensitivity.
Do you have an opinion about this topic? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
This lesson will teach you how to conduct an effective practice session and rate your performance. Even if the reporter has a particularly bruising deadline, try to do a quick “shortcut” version of this exercise.
Record a Practice Interview
- 1. Ask colleagues, friends, or family members to interview you. Give them your Q&A document so that they can ask you the questions you developed, but encourage them to ask any relevant follow-up questions they can think of. That will force you to practice answering unanticipated questions by transitioning back to your messages.
- Supplement your Q&A document with a few open-ended questions (say, “Can you tell me about your company?”) and a few of the trap questions you learned earlier in the book.
- 2. Get your equipment ready. If you’re preparing for a television interview, record your practice run with a video camera, if possible. For radio or print interviews, you may use an audio recorder (most smartphones have a built-in audio recording device).
- 3. Adjust to the format of your upcoming interview. If you’re preparing for a standing television “bites” interview, for example, stand up and maintain eye contact with your friend or family member, not the camera. (Your interviewer should stand just to the side of the camera.)
- 4. When the interview begins, try not to break character. If you make a mistake, keep going. It’s important to learn how to recover from your mistakes, so stay in the moment and do your best to get back to surer ground.
Rate Your Performance
- 1. Watch or listen to the tape. Pause the playback after every answer.
- 2. Begin your self-critique by commenting on the things you did well—positive feedback is important—and then move on to the things you could have done better. Make sure you comment on both the quality of your message and the manner in which you delivered it.
- 3. After you analyze an answer, ask your colleagues, friends, and/or family members for their feedback. Proceed through the entire interview, one answer at a time, using this formula.
- 4. Be kind to yourself. Most people are much more critical of themselves than they should be. In media training workshops, people most frequently comment on their age, their looks, or their voice—but the audience is less likely to be distracted by such matters. There’s a reason many Academy Award—winning actors refuse to watch their own films—they are painfully self-critical and see only the flaws in their performances. The reality is that their performances were brilliant—and similarly, your performance was likely better than you think.