What Does an After Dinner Speech Do?

After-dinner speeches are usually the very last event in a conference of seminar – once all the formal presentations have been concluded and the final networking dinner has been eaten, an after dinner speaker ultimately creates a positive and entertaining send off for all the guests.

Rather than relying on PowerPoint and props, an after dinner speech relies entirely on wit, an understanding of the audience, and top-class delivery. There are no hand-outs or exercises – all of those have been completed earlier on in at the event. The purpose of the after dinner speech is to pull together the overall theme and send everybody home on high.

To say that an after dinner speech can make or break an event is probably stretching it, but it’s definitely one of the most memorable parts of it.

Are there any rules?

Given that this is probably the least formal type of speech, it’s easy to think that there are no rules for booking or guiding after dinner speakers beyond a cursory outline of what the event’s about. While a professional speaker can usually put something together that will resonate with your audience, it’s important to schedule properly and make sure that people are ready for the speech (rather than still chewing or nodding off).

  • Choose well for the audience – the speaker and their experience needs to be relevant
  • Try to schedule the speech for before 11pm – around 10pm is the sweet spot
  • Let the speaker know about the company and event (in broad strokes)
  • Expect some jokes and a little heckling – after all, everybody is enjoying themselves and relaxing a little compared to the rest of the day
  • ‘Money’s worth’ is for the experience, not per word – brevity is important when entertaining guests after dinner, so these speeches usually last around 20 minutes or even less

Preparation is key to a successful speech – regardless of the timing or setting. In the words of Mark Twain, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech…”.

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