Retiring the retirement speech


How do you formulate a great send-off speech?

by Peter Watts

Retirement speeches are due for retirement. A blend of good luck and bad means that retirement is becoming a thing of the past. The good luck is that we live longer, fitter lives. The bad luck is that retirement funds haven’t kept up with us.

Today we more often work a series of downsize careers before finally retiring after a period of part-time employment.

With classical retirement on the way out, the appropriate speech therefore needs rewriting. Most examples found on the internet will either insult someone who sees themselves as having working years to give, or depress someone who wishes they were heading for a classic golf-course retirement but frankly can’t afford it.

Even if those two points don’t dissuade you from a “retirement speech”, just put yourself in the place of the average recipient of one of these dreadful things. The poor old codger, off to pasture while the bright young things look on in patronizing pity. Painful.

A solution is at hand in a speech type called an Encomium. It’s a tribute speech that’s suitable for seeing people on the next stage of their life journey, and works well for any type of leaving speech. Here is a step-by-step guide to a 21st century encomium that will make your leaver wish they weren’t leaving.

An encomium presents someone’s story as a heroic journey. As with all good stories, there is a narrative structure that can be thought of as:

  • Step One: Their origin
  • Step Two: Their traits
  • Step Three: Their deeds
  • Step Four: Their legacy

The vital ingredient: A character trait

The speech hinges on a specific personality trait of the individual being praised, and demonstrating how through that trait, the person leaving has contributed to the achievements of either the team or organization. You then conclude the speech by encouraging others to emulate that trait, thereby continuing the individual’s legacy. Here are the stages for putting your encomium together:

Step One: How they joined us

Begin with a brief description of how the individual came to be in their current position. Some basic facts to include are:

  • What they did before joining your team or company
  • The position they joined in
  • The situation of the team at the time they joined

During an encomium you magnify the individual’s achievements. For this reason, the task is easier if you start low! If you include too much greatness in the early stages, then the best you achieve by the end is to show how the individual merely maintained that greatness. In other words, you show how they flat-lined!

Some examples of starting low might include how it was a tough time for the company when they joined. Their career and attributes can then be mapped onto how they helped the company/team pull through those times.

Alternately, you might focus on how the individual joined the team as a novice or apprentice, and has delivered great things throughout their growth..

Step Two: Their Traits

Here you lay out that essential personality trait.

This is important for the narrative in two ways:

  • during the next stage you will detail a major contribution that person makes to the organization and why they will be missed. The aspect of their nature you highlight here, will be the logical foundation for the achievement that is to come.
  • at the end of the speech you will exhort everyone else to fill the gap this individual leaves by emulating that trait. So, make sure its a trait you would encourage in others!

For example, if the individual is recognized as being a great salesperson, you will praise a personality aspect that supports this. It could be their persistence, their integrity, or their thirst for success.

Step Three: Their Deeds

The creators of the encomium, the ancient Greeks and Romans, believed this section should contain “the three Excellences”, and these were detailed to be the excellences of mind, body, and fortune. When we understand what would have been included under these headings, it gives an indication of the tone we’re aiming to achieve.

Under the excellence of the mind, classical speakers would share examples that demonstrated fortitude, stamina, and prudence. For the excellence of the body, they would talk about the individuals grace and style. Finally for the excellence of fortune, the speaker would talk about the position, wealth, or high connections that someone had achieved.

Try to hit some of those excellences in telling the story. Where did the leaver demonstrate stamina in achieving results? How did their unique personal style contribute to success? What fortune came to the team or organization as a result?

A classical encomium might list multiple deeds; the higher the individual, the more deeds would be detailed! For this speech however, limit yourself to just one or two.

Step Four: Their Legacy

This final stage wishes the leaver well on the next stage of their journey, and interestingly swings the speech away from the recipient, and onto the audience.

Ask those who are being left behind to reflect on the unique personality trait of the person leaving, and encourage them to emulate it. Each individual must rise up to fill the gap this departure is going to create. Encourage the audience to perpetuate that positive behavior.

Bring your attention back to the leaver. Simply and cleanly thank them for their service, and wish them well on the next stage of their journey.

This concludes your speech. As with all good speaking, draft it in advance and practice before delivery. Do everything you can to keep the speech brief, and if possible, try to deliver it from memory.

You might also want to have some tissues handy. People have been known to become a little teary-eyed at this point, but when they do, you’ll know that it’s for all the right reasons!

Comments

  1. Long gone are the days of the ‘gold watch’ at the end of 30+ years of loyal and faithful service. This is a bad thing I think for the company/business as well as for the person leaving (not that they probably need a gold watch!) but the amount of experience and knowledge that they take with them isn’t always easy to replace.

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