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5 Rules for Giving a Knockout Retirement Speech

Follow these tips and you’ll avoid turning your farewell into a faux pas

By Bob Lowry | March 21, 2013
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Bob Lowry was a management consultant to several hundred radio stations before retiring in 2001. He writes the Satisfying Retirement blog and is the author of the e-book, Living a Satisfying Retirement.

Finally, the end of your full-time, working career has arrived. You’re ready to begin a satisfying and productive retirement after completing just one last important task — giving your retirement speech at a dinner in your honor. Nervous?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 75 percent of us fear public speaking and the jitters are especially pronounced when we have to talk about ourselves.

Jerry Seinfeld jokes that public speaking scares people so much, at a funeral we’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. That’s probably a little overblown, but it’s fair to say that offering a retirement speech scares some people to death.

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You may be asking yourself: What should I talk about? What shouldn’t I say? How many of my work successes should I include? Can I poke fun at my employer? How long should I talk? Will I be boring? 

As someone who is now retired and was a member of the audience for more than my fair share of retirement speeches, I can say that I have heard plenty of memorable duds.

One gentleman talked for nearly 40 minutes, recapping virtually everything he’d ever done in his organization. The audience was ready to head for the exits well before he finished.

5 Rules for a Great Retirement Speech

If you’ll soon be called on to give a retirement speech, I suggest you keep these five rules in mind:

Keep it short. Your co-workers and family are there to celebrate and are eager to make you feel comfortable and appreciated. Help them out by speaking no more than 10 minutes.

A retirement speech isn’t meant to be a detailed rundown of your history with your soon-to-be ex-employer. Rather, it is a chance to show your gratitude for the opportunities you had there.

Tailor your talk to the attendees. In all likelihood, you’ll be speaking to two very different groups of people: younger co-workers and older ones. So you’ll want to reach them both.

The employees in their 20s and 30s will have a hard time relating to someone about to retire. So include in your talk references to the workplace that will hit home for them.

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Your peers, by contrast, will likely be thinking about their own coming departures from work and their feelings about that major life change. They’ll appreciate hearing you mention what lies ahead.

You’ll connect with both groups by remaining positive, upbeat and thankful.

Recall some early memories and the people who helped you along the way. Tell a few brief anecdotes about your initial struggles at the workplace and the mistakes you made learning the ropes there. Your audience will relate to them.

Poking fun at yourself is certainly appropriate; just avoid jokes or stories at the expense of others. A co-worker’s habit of spending too much time on the Internet or a boss who wears the same tie every Friday would be embarrassing and inappropriate here.

By all means, mention the names of some co-workers who helped and inspired you over the years.

Stress accomplishments that were part of a team effort and a reflection of your employer’s leadership. A boastful speech filled with your achievements is not your goal.

Humility is an important part of a successful goodbye. Thanking people you’ve worked with every day, including the support staff who made your job easier, is a key to a great retirement speech.

Pay tribute to the people who made your career the success it was by naming them.

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Save a list of all your brilliant ideas and how you saved the company for your first book. You’ll probably have time to write one during retirement.

End by talking about what you’ll miss most and what this new phase of life holds for you. A gracious finish should include a heartfelt expression of the sadness you’re feeling now that you won’t be part of the organization any longer.

Note that you’ll miss the day-to-day contact with co-workers and believe the organization has a bright future. The close of your speech should express a warm feeling for your employer and those who’ll remain behind.

At the same time, let your audience know you’re really excited about your next steps and are looking forward to a positive retirement experience.

Feel free to share some of your plans and dreams, but don’t dwell on them. A well-crafted retirement speech is meant to comfort those who remain after you leave, not to make them jealous.

A Reminder Before Your Talk

One final tip: As with any public presentation, practice makes perfect.

Your speech shouldn’t be ad-libbed and it shouldn’t be read verbatim. Put key bullet points on a few index cards to stay on track and on time. Then, give the talk aloud ahead of time to someone you trust who will provide honest feedback.

Remember: A retirement speech is your final gift to a group of people who’ve been like family to you. If they enjoy the present that you deliver, you will, too.