Retirement Party Speech: Make them glad they came

Your retirement party speech is an opportunity to thank those who have supported you in your career and helped make working over the years a blessing. Now that you will have the floor for a few remarks, you should remember three rules:

  • be entertaining,
  • express appreciation and
  • be brief.  

People are busy and attention spans are short these days.  You should be able to say everything people want to hear in no more than 7-10 minutes. Shorter is better.

Below are ideas for a standard retirement speech that you can customize for your audience.  These tips will also work if you are the one who is supposed to say a few words about a retiree.  Just remember – stories and specific details are memorable; generalizations about the world of work are not. Your goal is to be engaging, not boring.  

Your retirement party speech: Get their attention right away

Start off strong with a good attention-getter. This sets people up to anticipate what you are going to say. Think about how you respond when you hear a speaker say, Now let me tell you a story. Your attention-getter is designed to inspire that same feeling of anticipation from your audience. 

Examples of types of attention-getters 

A personal story – The first day I stepped inside this office 20 years ago, Pat Watson,  our salty receptionist, asked,  ‘Who the heck are you?’  I’ve been trying to answer that question now for . . . 

Some surprising facts or statistics — As I look out at the people here today, I think of the 25 years, 1250 weeks, more than six-thousand  5 AM alarms, and 8,247 L-O-N-G  meetings I’ve sat through. . .    (You might mention some particularly onerous activities your audience would enjoy.) 

A question — People have been asking me now that I’m retiring, what am I going to do?  Have you ever had the experience of being happy and sad at the same time?   Do you know what I’ll be doing in three weeks? etc.

A humorous quote — When you wake up at 6 AM, you close your eyes for 5 minutes and then it's already 6:45. When you're at work and it's 2:30 and you close your eyes for 5 minutes, you open your eyes and it’s 2:31. (Source is anonymous.)

A memorable quote — Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at some work worth doing.’ (The advantage of this technique is that you can keep referring back to it at points in your talk.)

Some other unexpected event — Perhaps arrange to have a colleague come up and deliver you a FedEx package as you get ready to start. Open it and read the contents which could tell you that your retirement is cancelled, your mother wants you to . . . etc.

Your retirement party speech: Thanking others

After your attention-getter, take about 30-45 seconds to thank people who are special visitors. Recognize family members or others who have traveled to your celebration and aren’t known to those in your company unless they have already been introduced by a previous speaker. Be brief and express the wish that people will come up to meet them after the program.

If you have a long list, save the others till near the end of your speech. Don’t ramble on too long or you’ll lose your audience.

Your retirement party speech: The main section

For the body of your talk,

  • Pick 3-5 stories that are examples of special experiences you have had that also highlight the relationships with coworkers who have helped you along the way. Be sure to develop a good transitional sentence to link one story to the next.
  • Alternatively, pick 3-5 lessons you have learned about people, work and life that could serve as advice to younger workers.  Depending on your personality, you can be humorous, serious or combine the two approaches. However, if you choose to mix humor and serious tones, start funny and end reflective.

Your retirement party speech: moving toward the end

After you finish your stories or lessons, give some thoughtful observations about what the people attending your celebration have meant to you, how they have impacted your life or changed you for the better. You might note that you (and your spouse) are going on to new adventures but will hold close the memories and friendships you’ve made at your work.

This is another occasion where you can mention those who need a shout-out but, again, be brief.

The all-important conclusion – Think carefully about your final sentences and then spend some extra time practicing them so that you can deliver your conclusion flawlessly and looking at your audience.  Your ending should be upbeat and appreciative. A winning technique is to close your speech with some remarks that hark back to your opening attention-getter because that imparts a sense of unity and completion.

Be sure to practice your speech out loud, especially the opening and closing, so you'll be comfortable and find out about any problem phrases that are difficult to say in time to reword them. The more you practice, the more you will be able to speak from the heart when it's time to say goodbye to your colleagues.

Good luck and congratulations on reaching this momentous milestone!

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