Preparing and Delivering the Special-Occasion Speech

Learning Objectives

Identify the proper techniques for delivering a speech on a special occasion.

The good news is the basic form of a special-occasion speech is much like that of any other speech. It has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The better news is that because it is geared to a special occasion, you already have a purpose and, usually, the speech is brief! The challenge is to say what you need to say as clearly and effectively as possible. Here are some steps that can help with structuring this type of speech.


Research your occasion, your topic, and any persons or groups who are attending or who you will be introducing or mentioning. Find some interesting information about the audience, event, or person that is related to the speech topic and purpose.

A woman distributing medicine, wearing a volunteer uniformFor example, let’s say you volunteer for an organization that provides food and medicine for people experiencing homelessness. At an upcoming event, one of the other volunteers, Cynthia, is being recognized for her years-long dedication to the organization. You are to hand the award to her in an award ceremony. You can approach this small speech by interviewing the person as part of your research. You can ask Cynthia about how she got involved with this specific charity, and anything else she may do to support  this cause. What is extremely important to remember when interviewing Cynthia is to ask permission before using any personal information about her in anything you write or say in your speech. Along with interviewing Cynthia, you might want to research background information such as the history of the organization or statistics about homelessness in the area.

Know Your Audience

Know your audience and decide what is appropriate based on age group and interest level. Several different groups may be present and you will want to connect with everyone; you will need to find the best angle to address their interests, catch their attention, and gain their support.

Let’s consider Cynthia’s award ceremony again. You were told that you have fifteen minutes to speak and introduce the awardee. You’ve learned that some of the attendees have a connection to the organization, but many don’t know much about the work it does. So, you decide to include the following:

  • A brief history of the organization
  • Cynthia’s role in the organization
  • The story of how Cynthia got involved in this organization
  • How the community can become involved

Writing (and Rewriting) the First Draft

For this speech type, you can lay out the speech in a way you find most comfortable. You can write using your computer, paper and pen, or flash cards. When writing your speech, you will need to keep timing in mind (is it a five-, 15-, or 30-minute presentation?). A typical special occasion speech will include the following components: start by introducing yourself. You can include a summary of your background and your connection to the event in two or three sentences. Then begin the body of the speech using your research you collected; don’t forget to cite any sources you may use. You can add any relevant examples or short stories that could build excitement in your speech. You will want to create a tone in the speech using language and literary devices like we talked about earlier. Finally, you will want to conclude in a memorable way. In special-occasion speeches, you do not always need to summarize all the speech points. It will depend upon what you learn in your audience analysis. You will want to thank the audience for their time and attention and conclude with a memorable closing statement!

Back to Cynthia’s award ceremony: as you begin to construct your speech, you find that it helps you to write an outline first. An outline gives you the framework you need. You look through your research and decide where you plan to include information by making notes in the outline. You then decide you want to use notecards and begin to write the speech on these cards using the outline.

Practice and More Practice

Now you have reached the best part: getting to perform the speech itself. Start by reading it aloud to yourself until you are anticipating the words as you read. Then underline the phrases you want to be sure to deliver verbatim to make your points, leaving yourself the flexibility to add and subtract content as you practice. A good method is to record your speech and play it back. When you listen to your recording, keep in mind that hearing yourself takes some time getting used to! Don’t judge your voice or the delivery at first, just concentrate on how the ideas flow (or not) and the timing and length of the piece and get used to listening to yourself. Make your changes and then find a person to watch your presentation. Don’t expect your performance to be perfect. Go easy on yourself and practice enough that you feel comfortable giving the speech. For the very first practice session, relax. It is important to get the words out and then ask for feedback on the ideas and delivery. Don’t skip this stage as it is essential to presenting an excellent speech. Remember in these practice sessions, you want to simulate how you plan to give the actual speech. Below are further tips on things to practice while preparing for your speech.

Voice and Delivery

It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it! Time to polish this speech to make it shine! Rehearse the speech in a mirror, looking at how much eye contact you are making with yourself. A short speech will be easy to memorize partially, but something longer will need you to balance the amount of eye contact you and your audience will share. If it is a small group in a small room, it is particularly important to make eye contact. Be sure to scan the audience, to make sure they know that you are including everyone. That will allow you to respond to their reactions as a group while maintaining your presence as a speaker! You should speak slowly and allow time for the words to hit their ears. It is good to speak in short sentences and breathe frequently. Some speakers and many performers mark their breaths and especially their pauses in their notes. If you will be speaking in a larger room or auditorium, BE SURE to ask if you will have a microphone and get a time when you can practice with it! Speak directly into the microphone, and practice the distance you need between you and the microphone. The microphone will also affect how you can or can’t move during your talk—is it anchored or handheld? Wireless or wired? Your best efforts will be wasted if you are unprepared to deal with the equipment (or lack of it).

Look Good and Feel Good

Find a simple, comfortable outfit and shoes that you like and try it on ahead of the event. Double check with the organizers and ask if there are any dress codes or restrictions. It is okay to ask their opinion if you are not sure. Make sure to select a similar outfit as a backup choice. To feel good is a matter of doing your preparation and getting enough sleep. Even if you are not feeling great on the day of your speech, your preparation will carry you through! Match your movement to the speech and the venue. If you are someone who uses your hands in daily conversation, plan to use them in your speech, but practice to ensure the gestures are not distracting; some people like to note on their speech when they plan to use a gesture and practice so this looks very natural. Choose facial expressions that fit the event. Lastly, hit the bathroom, check yourself in the mirror, and take a deep breath. Be you. Be ready for anything. Feel confident because you are prepared and ready!

People at an awards ceremony listening to a speechSo, award day is finally here and you are ready. You have found out the information you need to know through your research, wrote and edited your speech, and practiced it by yourself and with friends. You start by introducing yourself and move into some statistics about homelessness in the area to drive the need for funding home and affirming why the audience is gathered. You talk about the organization’s accomplishments and the importance of Cynthia’s role within it. You move into talking about how she has had a huge impact through her dedication to this important cause and tell a quick story about Cynthia that shows her character and commitment. You conclude by thanking Cynthia for her hard work and the audience for being there. You finish by handing the award to her. Cynthia is moved by your speech and thanks you for such an inspiring introduction. During the reception, many approach you stating what a great speech you gave. They give you feedback that your eye contact was great, or your words were well emphasized. You can walk away knowing that you did all the preparation necessary to deliver this successful speech.