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How to write a retirement speech | Give a great speech

Retirement Speech

Intro: Speech Writing | how to write a thank you speech for retirement

This guide will help you write a retirement speech for yourself or for someone else that is retiring. The principles of both speeches are the same: Honor the person, and honor the event. The goal of this guide is to help you first generate ideas of what you want to say, to look at examples of retirement speeches, and to create a structure you can use to make it easier to write the content for the speech. For tips on practicing your retirement speech, take a look here and here. This guide will also address retirement speeches for specific people like bosses, coworkers, and teachers, along with specific occasions such as military retirements or when the retirement wasn’t your choice. It may be helpful to have a Word doc or Google doc open during this blog post to jot down ideas for your retirement speech or the one you’ll give to another person.

Example Retirement Speech

Let’s first look at an example retirement speech that hits every note. You can find the text over at the Retirement Manifesto blog.

This speech excels in that it…

  1. Focuses on lessons learned during a lifetime from work and family
  2. Each lesson headlines its short sections
  3. The speech has a mix of practical and emotional advice–”saving early” vs. “finding someone to love unconditionally”
  4. It uses stories in parts but doesn’t shy away from quoting a cool fact or statistic; we get insight into his career and his family
  5. When necessary, the author, Fritz Gilbert, quotes others as he did with Jim Collins
  6. It focuses on gratitude for the lessons learned–but it’s not a speech that looks backward but instead provides advice for the future,

What I do care about, however, is that each of you does all that you can, while you’re still working, to ensure that your retirement will be the best retirement you can build.  If there’s nothing else you remember from my retirement speech, it’s my hope that you remember the importance of designing your own retirement, and that you never accept anything less than the best life has to offer, whatever that means to you.”

What should I say for my speech?

Using the lessons above from Fritz’s speech, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions in this section such as:

Let’s break the answers down by the two goals stated earlier: Honor the Person and Honor the Event

Many speakers, especially humble leaders, do not like talking about themselves. They feel that it comes off as boastful and bragging. Instead, you can still talk about yourself but in a way that demonstrates how people in your life have contributed to your success–make it about those who helped you along the way. 

Honor the Person: Use the following questions to brainstorm what to say in your retirement speech:

  1. What lessons have you learned over the years?
  2. Who or what experiences taught you those lessons?
  3. To whom are you grateful for being in your life? How have they made you happier?

Honor the Event:

The second set of questions concerns the event itself–the speech and the meaning of retirement.

  1. What does this event signify with so many of the people in the room (or on Zoom) attended? Why are you grateful for the people who attended?
  2. What does retirement mean to you? What’s next in your life?
  3. What advice can you give to the generation that follows after you? If it’s a work-related event, who is taking over in your place? What do you want them to know?

What to say for a retirement speech for someone else?

You might not be ready to retire but people in your life are and you want to say something that shows your appreciation. For this section, we’ll focus on what to say at a retirement party for someone else that you love. it’s also how you would write a testimonial speech for a retiring person.

The secret is that the questions are similar to the ones you’d give at your own retirement speech but instead you want to focus on what the person you’re honoring means to your life.

Here are some questions to help brainstorm some thoughts for a speech for someone who is retiring:

Honor the Person:

  1. What lessons has the retiree taught to you? They can be small and funny or large and meaningful.
  2. Why are you grateful that the person was in your life?
  3. What actions has this person done that others should know about? When were they really there for you?
  4. How is the world a better place because of this person?
  5. How can all of us lead better lives because of the example set by the person retiring?

Honor the Event:

  1. What does retirement mean to you? Why is this particular occasion so special?
  2. Given who is in the audience, why is it important that certain people are present? What do they mean in the life of the person retiring?

Do Now: Retirement speech brainstorming:

If you haven’t already, choose a section above and write down the answers to the questions as they come to you. Don’t worry about structure yet, we’ll talk about that later. The idea is to do a brain dump so that you can have pages full of ideas from which to choose. All of them might not make it in, but it’s better to write first and edit later.

Speeches for Specific People:

Many people ask for specific advice for different types of people in their lives when it comes to retirement speeches. The most commonly asked for include bosses, family members, teachers, and leaders, that the person giving the retirement speech looks up to. We’ll also handle a few scenarios where it’s tough to write the speech such as when you don’t particularly like the person or don’t know them all too well.

Bosses:  How to give retirement speech for boss | How to organize speech for boss’s retirement

Bosses can be a tough group to give a speech to–you want to impress them, their boss, and others in the company. Use the guidelines above from “writing a retirement speech for someone else,” to guide you.

Some additional questions could be:

  1. How has the boss shaped you professionally?
  2. What professional lessons has the boss taught you? Which personal lessons has the boss taught you?
  3. How is your company better off for having this person work for them?
  4. What hobbies do they have that you hope they’ll do more of in their spare time?

But what if you don’t like your boss? 

Not everyone does and that’s one of the questions I’ve fielded as people have asked, “How to write a retirement speech for a boss retiring that you don’t like?” 

Use the strategy that many job seekers use in interviews when asked, “What is your greatest weakness?” The trick is to take something negative and turn it into a positive, e.g., “Sometimes, I can be too dedicated to my work” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.”

You can do the same thing with your boss–imagine they were in an interview and had to answer, “What is your greatest weakness?” but chose to spin it like a crafty job interviewee.

“The boss is too demanding,” becomes, “They have high standards.”

“The boss doesn’t deal well with other people,” becomes, “They are all business.”

“The boss doesn’t have anything else going for them except work,” becomes, “They put the job before everything else.”

If you find it too hard to write the speech, opt to not give one at all or keep it as short as possible. You may even want to look up short toasts (like a few lines long) that you might see at a wedding and use one of those instead. Here are some Irish Toasts that could be adapted or used straight-out if you have to say something.

Colleagues and Coworkers:

The same advice for your boss can be applied to speeches for your coworkers such as when a sales guy is retiring or the retirement speech is for a coworker or colleague. In these instances, if you know the person well, you can be more casual in what you discuss and talk about.

Ideas for a retirement speech for a coworker or colleague:

Friends and Family: 

Another common category for retirement speeches is when it comes to friends and family–often the people invited to the retirement party. 

People ask:

For retirement speeches for friends and family, much of the same advice applies but you can get more emotional and don’t have to worry about being “all business.”

For ideas relating to giving a retirement speech for friends and family members:

Service Professions:

For teachers, firefighters, nurses, police, and military, these professions seem to get extra notice during retirement speeches due to how long the people in them serve and the nature of their work. Follow the retirement speech advice given previously but also think about the following questions:

Retirement speech ideas for teachers, nurses, military, police officers, firefighters, and all service professions:

  1. How is the world a better place because of this person?
  2. How are the citizens and students this person serves safer, smarter, more well protected, because of their efforts?
  3. What are your favorite serious and funny moments that this person has had?
  4. Why is their profession so important? If this person hadn’t entered this profession, how would the world be a worse place?
  5. What have you learned from watching this person work? How can we take the lessons from their work ethic and apply them to our own lives?

Retirement speech examples

Before we get to the speech’s structure and flow, let’s look at a few examples for more inspiration. The following examples are all quite famous people but ones we can learn a great deal from in how to do a retirement speech. You might not feel as though your life is similar to that of a Senator or Pro Football player but the idea is to look for which aspects of their life they chose to focus on when giving their speech. Not all of the speeches will be upbeat–some were given at moments when the person didn’t want to retire or felt like they had unfinished business. You might be facing a similar situation and that’s OK–it’s still worth it to tell others how you feel.

Two other speeches might not seem like “retirement speeches” but they are in a sense: Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture and Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech. Both were given near the end of their lives and contain the same type of advice you might hear in a retirement speech.

For the Youtube videos, there is often a transcript–look for the three dots below the right bottom corner of each video and choose “Open transcript.” This is helpful if you want to see YouTube’s best attempt at machine transcription (which is often quite good) and if you’re like me and can read much faster than listening.

Retirement speech example videos:

Peyton Manning

Watch it for: Gratitude towards those that came before him

Andrew Luck

Watch it for: How to talk about a difficult decision

Kat Renaker

Watch it for: Honoring someone else–a former student honoring a teacher

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen

Watch it for: How to honor family members and to mix humor and advice

Professor Patricia Cleary Miller

Watch it for: Brevity and humor

Jeff Flake retirement speech

Watch it for: How to tie what he did to a larger purpose (Democracy)

Kobe Bryant

Watch it for: Mix of gratitude, motivation, and looking towards the future of the next generation

Judy Middeler

Watch it for: Relaxed delivery, great stories of time in teaching

Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture

Watch it for: Great storytelling and bringing out examples

Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech

Watch it for: Great structure, three stories that are all connected

How to make a retirement speech: Writing the Retirement Speech

This final section will deal with tips and ideas on how to write your retirement speech. The examples above all carry some of the same themes and ideas on how to write a great retirement speech.

Qualities of the Best Retirement Speeches

First, they use stories to honor the people that helped them and to motivate their audience.

Second, they draw lessons from those stories.

Third, they use those lessons to give advice to the next generation.

Fourth, they balance out practical and emotional advice–often erring on the emotional side.

Fifth, they focus on the positive as much as possible–it’s not a time to reopen old wounds.

Retirement Speech Length:

Often people ask, “How long should a retirement speech be?” I would put the answer around 10 minutes for most speeches but if it’s a large event honoring you, go no longer than 18 minutes. Consider it similar to a college commencement speech. No one was ever accused of giving a speech that was “too short.”

Humor in a Retirement Speech:

To add humor to a speech, rather than try to tell a joke that might fall flat (how not to start a retirement speech), tell funny stories. Even if the story doesn’t come off as humorous, it will still have a point. Some people look for good one liners or tired jokes about retirement–we’ve heard them all before.

Retirement Speech Structure, Opening and Closing:

In this last part, we’ll talk about structure and in turn, how to start a retirement speech and how to end a retirement speech.

One of the easiest structures to adopt is the “story and lesson” structure. Each section is a short story with the lesson either at the beginning (like Fritz and Randy Pausch did) or at the end (like Steve Jobs).

You can include 3 medium-length to longer stories or multiple short stories 5 or more. It’s up to you. The goal is to use each story to tell a lesson to the audience.

Another structure is to build your speech around thanking specific people or groups of people. This can get tricky if you leave someone out–so be sure that everyone who needs to gets a mention. 

You can also mix the various structures to have parts where you thank a person and other times where you tell stories. It can be fluid. 

To start a retirement speech, it’s usually best to welcome people to the event. You can acknowledge a few important guests (like your spouse and family) but don’t fill the beginning with all thank-yous as it will tend to get boring.

To end a retirement speech, one easy way to do it is with a short toast or a quote from someone else as the toast. Short toasts can be found here as a starting point.

To hold the speech together, you may also want to include a theme–some large idea that everything relates back to. Brainstorm a title for your speech and that should be your theme.

Retirement Speech Guide Conclusion:

Now it’s your turn to put the advice together into a speech. Use the questions in each section to brainstorm what you want to say. Look for common themes and use stories to get your point across. Draw lessons from what you’ve learned and talk about the people along the way to whom you are grateful. Draw a larger lesson by talking about the meaning of the retirement and its connection to the organization that the person is leaving. Finally, use the example speeches as your own source of inspiration where you can model what you want to say off their structure and format.

If you need help with writing or editing your retirement speech, email me here.

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

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