MEANINGFUL WORDS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
My husband never had a real birthday party as a child. At best, someone stuck a candle in a cake, which is why parties have always been important to him as an adult. It was not at all surprising, then, that Harvey decided to throw himself the ultimate celebration for a recent milestone birthday. Determined to make it a magical experience, he planned to hold the event in the Champagne region of France. Faxes flew back and forth to likely restaurant locations for months until he finally made his choice. Then he focused on selecting the perfect menu, not leaving a single detail to chance.
When the big day finally arrived, our family and friends gathered at the elegant restaurant Harvey had chosen. It was located in a turn-of-the-century mansion on a park-like estate, the sort of place seen only in your dreams or in the movies.
The evening began with champagne cocktails on a terrace overlooking sprawling lawns and plantings. We later adjourned to a private dining room fit for royalty, where hot and cold running waiters served a six-course meal, complete with appropriate wines. (Mais oui!)
Now, this fantastic setting would have made my husband's party a special one in any case, but what made it truly unforgettable was the human element. Weeks earlier, I had asked attendees to arrive prepared to say a few words about him, humorous or otherwise. Before dessert, they rose one after another to honor him with a variety of toasts and tributes that he will always remember.
In an evening of laughter and love, this imaginative group extolled my husband's virtues, tweaked his well-known foibles, and reminisced about their history together. Some people recalled how they first met him; others told work-related war stories. A business and personal friend said in praise, "Harvey is a valued adviser and I wouldn't be nearly as effective without his counsel. He's the firebrand; I'm the quiet guy. He makes working in the industry a pleasure." Then, to top it off, one quartet harmonized a song to the tune of "Harrigan" that celebrated Harvey's skills as an attorney:
H-a-r-v-e-y, That spells our friend, Harvey; Proud of all accomplishments you've garnered, Among your loving friends, you're being honored.
Flo, Andrew, Jonathan, too, You're a marvelous crew.
You've got a name, legal fame; Ever more is connected with Harvey, that's you!
In a joyous night that became a treasured memory, my husband-along with the rest of us-laughed and cried.
It's no wonder that these songs and short speeches meant so much to my husband. He wanted to be remembered and appreciated on his birthday, as we all do.
It amazed him that so many people were willing to take the time and spend the money to join him, often reorganizing vacation plans to make it possible. "That alone made it memorable," he recalls. "As anticipated, the meal was 'to die for,' but the toasts made by everyone were unforgettable, up to and including the childhood memories of my sons. There was nothing that I would change."
Harvey adored being feted by close friends and family-and they loved participating in the event, too. Instead of freezing or growing self-conscious, everyone made an effort to say things that were personal, meaningful, and true. Allowing themselves to become a bit vulnerable, they reached within to express affection and admiration, emotions that frequently get swept aside in the course of our busy lives.
Of course, birthdays are just one of many social occasions that allow us to reaffirm ties with those we care about. As we're increasingly squeezed for time to relax and be ourselves with people important to us, celebrations help us get back in touch with our humanity. They're a chance to reinforce bonds that bring meaning to our lives and reconnect with who we are.
In your business and professional life, situations when you're required to say a few words offer opportunities, too. The best toasts and tributes are about relationships. They create community and connections with customers, associates, employees, and others who have an impact on your career or work life. They raise your professional visibility, as well as the visibility of the person you're toasting.
At such times, however, it's natural to fear that you will sound foolish or will flounder about for words. It's common to hear, "I hate giving toasts, because it's always so embarrassing," or, "When I have to give a toast, I never know what to say." Indeed, your choice of words does say a lot about you, but never fear-it's easy to find something significant to say when you have the right tools at your disposal.
There's really nothing mysterious about good toasts or tributes. The best ones are customized to the individual and the event, not copied from generic models. What always works is simplicity, sincerity, and your own "take" on what's going on. Your perspective is unique, and so are your personality and your relationship with the individual. We all know people in different ways, and others want to hear your observations.
The challenge is to cut through the anxiety and figure out what to say. Although it is true that some people are born speakers who always seem to have the right words at their fingertips, the rest of us need some help. It's easy once you know what to do, though! Use this book to educate yourself and learn the skills to compose effective, powerful remarks. Tips, techniques, and illustrations will help you relax, trust what you know and feel, and resist the urge to censor yourself. They will inspire you, trigger ideas, and help you tap into your spontaneity in new ways.
This book is a tool you can always lean on. Pull it out for any occasion and trust it to lead you in the right direction.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Here's to You! by Florence Isaacs. Copyright © 2002 by Florence Isaacs. Excerpted by permission of Potter Style, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.