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How to | Give a leaving speech

How to | Give a leaving speech


Moving on inexorably carries with it the promise of ‘the farewell speech’...
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

There comes a time when we all have to move on, whether it be flying the parental coop to head off into the big wide world, breaking up with a lover or under threat of arrest outside the headquarters of the BBC after protesting at the recommissioning of popular ‘sitcom’, ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.’ And moving on inexorably carries with it the promise of ‘the farewell speech’. Like an ugly mate in a nightclub the farewell speech hangs around putting you off making the most of your potential but there’s no need for things to be that way, the farewell speech can not only pass off without incident, it can actually endear you to your ex-colleagues and make your superiors regret losing such a valuable employee, and here’s how.

Location and audience are vital and should dictate the tone of your speech, the team assembled in the boardroom with the CEO demands a different kind of speech to the girls in All Bar One after a drop too much chablis. It’s worth bearing in mind that in the former circumstances it’s important to appear professional right up until the moment you leave the company, and in the latter that you can usually get the bottle for the price of two glasses if you pick your venue well.

Planning is important, the leaving speech will occur far more frequently in your life than a wedding speech and yet pubs the country over are full of people standing up without even a couple of pointers jotted down on a fag packet. Even if it’s only a few bullet points on the top leaf of a stolen Post-It pad a bit of planning will make sure you thank the right people and have some sort of structure to your ramblings. Planning also helps to prevent you from rambling aimlessly down a speech cul-de-sac, perhaps the commonest trap farewell speeches fall into. A list of those people to thank should include only those who deserve your special gratitude, usually your immediate superior and key team members/colleagues who you’ve worked closely with. Don’t try and thank everyone who has turned up or you could find yourself patronising horrendously as you realise that you don’t really know what Gill actually does but you have seen her making tea quite regularly.

Be honest with yourself, everyone would like to be remembered fondly at future company do’s for their witty leaving speech, but if you’ve never made an audience laugh in your life before it’s best to avoid any danger of David Brent-esque awkward silences. And any hint of personal attacks should be completely ruled out, however subtle, even an in-joke could rebound and leave others uncomfortable as your three closest work friends break into fits of giggles. Even if you have been building up to really lay into someone, comfort yourself with the thought that for those few brief minutes most of the people you are addressing are weighing up their own positions and wondering what would happen if they could move on. In the same way try and avoid burning your bridges for the future, going back to work for the same company again during your career is more common than you’d think, particularly in the pharma industry and the chance you might come across your boss or other superiors later in your career is even greater. The farewell speech and concurrent drinks should be an opportunity to do some last minute networking, these people aren’t colleagues anymore, but potential clients.

Enthusiasm for your new job should never descend into arrogance, be sure you can describe what you’ll be doing accurately and what your new responsibilities will be, nothing is more likely to give people a bad impression than if you can’t really tell them what your new job entails. If you are genuinely sorry to be leaving colleagues back up the statement from your speech with a personal word later on, they’ll value it more than you realise.

Your leaving gift should be the final comment you make before sitting down and locking your wallet, however ‘last minute’ it looks try to express your delight with such a well thought out and potentially useful present, if you’re expecting vouchers or a cheque try not to get your hopes up about how much you’ll receive, inevitably you’ll get carried away and then betray your disappointment on the day, particularly if you’ve been assiduously working out how much you’ve contributed to past leaving presents.

Finally a word on timings, this isn’t a state of the union address, the people you want to speak to will be there when you’ve finished so don’t go on at any great length, anything under five minutes is good if you’ve managed to get over your key points and a quick run through beforehand will calm any nerves, if you start seeing empty drinking vessels appearing on the table, whether they’re mugs in the boardroom or pint glasses in the pub you should get to the end, sharpish. Have fun!