How to make a non-cringe-inducing toast at the office holiday party

Inc. Magazine

As a manager, you are expected to give the toast at the annual company holiday party. How do you pull this off successfully?

You probably already know that you should speak with confidence, practice beforehand and smile and make eye contact during the toast. What else can help ensure your team members don’t roll their eyes at you or mock you behind your back for weeks? 

Fear not. Here is some holiday toast advice that’s almost as good as the drinks you’ll be enjoying in the office. (But don’t drink too much; that’s a big no-no at an office party.)

1. Think brevity

Bad presentations and terrible toasts have one thing in common: They drag on and on and on. I hardly ever hear someone complain that a speech was too short, but I hear lots of complaints that they go too long.

At Moxie, we draw on our background in stage performance when it comes to giving toasts, and I give my coaching clients the same advice, whether they’re preparing to speak at a holiday party or a celebrity keynote event: Leave them wanting more.

Keep your glass raised a bit for the speech. If your arm is getting tired, so are everyone’s ears. Don’t feel pressured to speak beyond one to two minutes. Your audience will appreciate the brevity.

2. Know your audience

Are you giving a holiday toast for the entire office or just your small team? Is it a young, casual group or a formal suit crowd? Will the CEO and senior vice presidents be in attendance?

Whom you’re speaking to makes all the difference in the world. What do they want or expect to hear?

It’s the end of the year. If it’s been a rough one and people have been working very hard, be complimentary, appreciative and optimistic. Try to inspire and note that the new year will bring new chances to do better.

Remember that nobody wants to go back over third-quarter earnings at a Christmas shindig. Invite your audience to step back from the bustle of the season and reflect with you for a few minutes. What are you grateful for? What obstacles did you overcome this past year? What opportunities await?

3. Be smart about your words

We’re lucky enough to live in a world of kaleidoscopic diversity. That means there’s a good chance that some folks at your party won’t be celebrating in the same way you do, if they celebrate Christmas or another holiday at all.

Be appreciative of the diversity of your team and try to make everyone feel welcome. Don’t bring religion or politics into the toast or party.

4. Don’t be afraid to be a little sappy

Who among us can watch that final scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life” without getting a little misty-eyed when Harry toasts his brother, George? Harry picked out the perfect words and there weren’t many of them.

One reason that most people love the holidays is that everyone gets to be a little more free with their emotions. Let your team know you care.

Feel free to talk about something emotionally important, but make sure to keep it light, too. Use Harry Bailey’s mood for your guide.

5. Have fun!

The holidays are for celebrating. Make sure that you reflect the mood of the holidays, and be authentic about it. Your team can spot phoniness a mile away.

Keep it light-hearted and, above all, fun. If you're having a good time, chances are your audience will as well.

And, pony up for quality Champagne. Your employees warrant some good stuff after a year of hard work. Leave people in a cheerful mood, ready to tackle the new year.

Witt Communications and Reuters offer some extra information about toasting etiquette: 

--Make sure that everyone has a full glass. (Remember not everyone drinks alcohol, so have some non-alcoholic options.)

--Stand in a prominent place and get people’s attention. Don’t bang on your glass with a utensil, however; that is tacky. Clear your throat and ask for everyone’s attention.

--Hold your glass in front of you a little above waist level.

--Never toast yourself; this is about others. If you are being toasted, just sit there and smile warmly. Do not drink from your glass.

--There’s no need to clink. Although the clinking of glasses is an old custom thought to drive away evil spirits, nowadays simply lifting your glass and saying “Hear, hear” or “Cheers” will suffice at an office party.

Fia Fasbinder is the CEO of The Moxie Institute.

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