By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

I’ve been reading Marlo Thomas’ bestseller, “The Right Words at the Right Time,” and enjoying stories of a message that stopped someone in his or her tracks.

The book contains many poignant accounts shared by A-listers, like the pep talk Venus Williams received from her sister Serena and the time Hillary Clinton’s dad taught her how to deal with public criticism. For a 16-year-old Jack Nicholson, a charge from his sister sent him packing his bags for California, determined to make a go of Hollywood. For Paul McCartney, the words his late mother, Mary, spoke to him in a dream – “Let it be” – sustained him during a dark time and inspired a hit song.

These stories demonstrate the power of a single statement to revive or redirect. They show how words can become a lightning bolt, never losing their impact, even decades later. Each of us possesses this power.

Many people assume public speaking is a gift you’re either born with or not. But in the 15 years I’ve been providing executive training in image, public speaking and presentation skills, I’ve seen again and again that they are eminently coachable. No matter where you begin, you will take significant strides with proper instruction and practice.

These skills should be applied broadly. We’re not just talking about the kind of dramatic moments chronicled in Thomas’ book, or those high-pressure moments in your career when you face a ballroom, a boardroom or a boss. Life presents all sorts of occasions to cast influence by speaking as well as you think. An often-overlooked opportunity falls during the holiday season: the toast.

A toast is a chance to celebrate any gathering, however big or small. The holidays present a steady string of toast-worthy moments, from the official company party to a casual happy hour, a small dinner with clients, a department-wide catered lunch, a family gathering or a New Year’s party.

The key to an effective holiday toast is to prepare in advance and to keep it brief. Your toast should fulfill three functions: create a celebratory feeling, unify the group and demonstrate a leadership presence.

First, you should appear lighthearted, genuinely glad to be there and to see others. You’re celebrating! This is the perfect time for a dose of levity, be it an insider joke about an innocuous office matter (“No, this does not count toward the new XYZ program!”) or a reference to a recent team effort (“This wine could’ve really helped us last Friday!”).

Second, a toast can unify a group and create a sense of bonding, lending a theme or purpose to an otherwise haphazard social gathering. Be the person who gives the party a solid framework. Make it more special by sharing a few thoughtful words and inviting the group to raise their glasses together.

And third, deliver a toast with the style and clarity that reflects your leadership presence. This concept kicks off much of our executive coaching. Presence, our instructors explain, stands for: passionate, relate to your audience, expressiveness, self-awareness, energy, naturally authentic, confidence and every day. Reflect these qualities in your toast.

Begin by alerting people to what you’re doing: “I’d like to take a moment to make a toast.” Wait until the group has quieted and you’ll be audible.

Build the body of your toast on two core elements: a thanks and a challenge. You’ll probably want to emphasize the former. You can always thank the group for simply gathering. What else deserves to be recognized? This is a celebration, so offer words that express what is being celebrated and why you consider it noteworthy.

The challenge piece is often brief, but it’s a chance to be forward looking. You’re not just saluting what happened in the past but calling for continued success. “Here’s to fruitful new collaborations in 2015!” “I hope we can have an even greater impact with our next campaign!” You’re looking ahead with optimism, and you’re letting the group in on that vision.

I encourage you to make several toasts throughout the holidays. You can start small, at a weeknight family dinner or during lunch with a few close colleagues. Once you successfully deliver a toast with our three-step roadmap, you’ll be jumping at the chance to deliver more.

 

 

 

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardisinc.com.

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