How many times have you heard someone say “I’d rather die than give a speech” or “If you don’t MC my wedding I will kill you”? I know I have heard these, and variations of these comments many, many times. Somewhere along the line ‘public speaking’ and ‘death’ become intrinsically linked. It is almost common belief that there is a certain level of ‘being embarrassed’ where you will actually kick the bucket and that this can be triggered by having to make a wedding toast.
Of course, despite people’s morbid fear of standing up and prattling off a few anecdotes it is an exaggeration – like saying you ‘love’ your car, you’re a caffeine ‘addict’ or that you ‘literally want to shag’ your internet service provider – strip away the hyperbole and you’ll realise the link between speech-making and shuffling off of this mortal coil is a grossly inflated untruth.
Sure, some people have died as a result of making speeches – notably, U.S President William Henry Harrison died a month after taking office as a result of making an inauguration speech so meandering and verbose he caught pneumonia in the process. The thing was though, Harrison actually enjoyed making speeches. He wasn’t the vaguest bit embarrassed at all. He liked making speeches so much he forgot to wear a coat. So really the only evidence there is that making a speech will kill you is if you enjoy doing it so much you forget to dress yourself.
Not only will you not actually leave the mortal realm simply because you feel a bit shamed, making speeches is really, really easy; you just need one or two ‘templates’ up your sleeve and you’ll be ‘Pulling a Harrison’ (Making speeches, not dying of pneumonia) without ‘totally Harrisoning out’ (dying, not making speeches).
Tell a Risqué Story
When you were at high school, the most interesting people were always the people who had ripping tales about getting ripped in the weekend or had ribald tales of sexual conquest. In this, like in most areas of life; nothing has changed since high school. The Falstaffian Sex conquistadors of our society are always the most interesting because of the tales that they tell.
One of the advantages to telling a risqué story in a speech is, due to societal mores, you are supposed to use euphemism and implication to indicate risqué behaviour, rather than being direct. For instance, the crowd at a wedding would be aghast if you, as a bridesmaid charged with making a toast said:
“Tabitha is getting married today. Last week at the Hen’s Night Tabitha got drunk and had sexual intercourse a stripper in a manner so vigorous that she broke the end of his penis”
Even though this is a literal and dispassionate list of events, it would still be inappropriate.
However, if you were to say:
“I don’t think any of us have had a drink since the Hen’s Night last week. Put it this way, there were a few sore heads the next day…”
You imply a degree of licentiousness without being literal and everyone would have a good old laugh. This works as a euphemism, but it could also be used to imbue a relatively tame evening with innuendo. You could simply be referring to Tabitha buying one too many craft beers and waking up with a mild hangover.
Litter with Cliches
Everyone thinks they know what “You’re only young once and at the end of the day you can’t put the shit back in the donkey” means, but this is because it is simply a list of idioms they have heard many, many times before. It might not mean anything at all, or it may be a pleasant way of justifying something extremely horrific. Regardless, you will get a laugh if you say it in a blokey voice and it’s the sort of funeral where the surviving family members say “He would have wanted a party and not a sad sort of funeral”.
One of the reasons that stand-up comedians are among the highest paid individuals in our society is because of their in-demand skill of being able to turn even the most mundane speaking engagement into something akin to a riotously funny episode of The Big Bang Theory.
However there is a good chance that you and your friends aren’t comedians. The way you can tell is, when you go to comedy shows, you don’t have a microphone. Even if you make loud jokes during the show, that are objectively funny, its still a case of ‘no microphone, no comedian’. The best you can do is to nick bits of a comedy routine and make them your own.
This is why Brides are so often accidentally referred to as ‘Louis C.K’ during well-lubricated wedding receptions.
It is one thing to make a speech well, it is another to make it passably funny but it is another thing still to make it advantageous. Making people think sex thoughts won’t pay the bills and no-one gets paid for making jokes unless they are a licensed and city-bonded comedian. The way to get ahead is to self-promote.
This is not as easy as simply standing up and saying “Hey guys, you know who is great: me!”. This only works on Twitter. No, the key to self-aggrandisement is to be more subtle than that. Rather than talk about yourself directly, look for an opportunity to insert yourself and your real or imagined achievements into someone else’s event.
I use the example of a farewell morning tea in the office to illustrate my point. The boss asks if “anyone has anything else they want to say” and you could say:
“Gandalf has been a credit to the team and, even though we all thought he was a bit of a bell-end when he changed his name, he’s a solid team player (cliche) and we’ll miss him…. *pause for applause* “…and here’s hoping his old mum doesn’t kick him out the house (familiarity, light humour).“ *pause for laughs*
Perfectly servicable speech, sure. Doesn’t really say much about you though does it? No.
Let’s try it again, this time with a bit more of a go-getter attitude
“I am reminded of a nickname that I heard The G-man and I used to have when we first started here ‘Ten Percent Above Target Twins’. It was a while ago, I don’t know how many of you will remember that but it was definitely a thing people said. Anyway, we used to have a laugh. G-Muzza with his references to the live action role-playing he did, me with my consistently high work rate and few sick days. We were quite a team.” *pause for awe*
In that speech you subtly reference your high performance and good record of bothering to show up, while also vaguely dehumanising the supposed subject of the speech by giving him a silly nickname then forgetting it, and giving him another one. That’s how you get ahead in this world if you’re not a comedian.
Don’t forget to bring a coat.