A tribute speech, such as a rank promotion or special awards—for military, fire, police, EMTs, and other service organizations—are an opportunity to honor the great deeds and achievements of those that earned them. A tribute speech is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your leadership if you are the one with the honor of speaking at the event or giving the award itself.
I hope that the following prompts will help you generate ideas for what to say in your tribute speech—whether this is the first time you will be speaking or your hundredth at a momentous ceremony. Your words will stick with honoree and those in the audience cheering them on.
Prompt 1: Why is this
person being honored? What great things have they achieved? Tell a story.
This advice is straightforward but often times we forget to tell the vivid story behind what the person achieved. Use this as an opportunity to tell, in detail, what the person accomplished.
Prompt 2: What obstacles did they overcome to achieve this rank, promotion, or award? What character traits, skills, or mentors, helped them overcome those obstacles?
Great stories—watch any epic movie—involve the hero (or heroine) overcoming a series of increasingly difficult obstacles. They do this through their character traits, special skills, and oftentimes with the help of a mentor. Tell those stories. We learn more about a person when we know how they overcome each obstacle. It gives the audience an insight into that person’s life, soul, and character.
Prompt 3: What lessons can we learn from this person’s life and accomplishments thus far? How can our lives be better by learning from their example?
Use this opportunity to talk about what we can learn from this person’s accomplishments. The lessons can be specific to your profession or service area or more general for audience members not a part of your group (ex: family, friends, attending the ceremony).
Prompt 4: How is the organization or society better off because of this person and their accomplishments?
In what way is your branch or general organization better off because of this person’s accomplishments? What does it mean for the future of your group that this person achieved what they did? Tie the person’s specific accomplishments to the general goals of your group.
Prompt 5: Who was
instrumental along the way in helping this person achieve this rank or
You want to tread lightly as you do not want to take away from the person’s accomplishments but were there key figures along the way who provided help and guidance? Take a few moments to recognize them (ex: trainers, teachers, managers, etc.).
Prompt 6: Why are you proud of what this person has accomplished? How can others emulate this person’s success?
There are others in the audience who may want to achieve the same promotion, rank, or award, what can they do to be like the person being honored? What are the best qualities that they should emulate?
Prompt 7: What might the audience not know about this person that’s unique, amazing, or just a bit quirky?
You can add some levity and humor to your speech if there is something about the person that others may not know too well. Often, people have hidden talents or endearing qualities that you can use to demonstrate that they aren’t quite Superman or Superwoman. Take care and not go overboard but if you have the right relationship, go for it.
How to use the prompts for your next speech honoring someone who has advanced in rank or promotion:
Take some time to answer each prompt as you prepare your remarks for the next rank promotion or award ceremony in your service organization. Use each prompt as a starting point to brainstorm your ideas and go back later to refine them into a structured speech. Some prompts may generate more ideas than others—go with the ones that resonate with you.
Want more ideas on what to say? Check out my upcoming book, “Toast: Short speeches, Big impact.”
Eddie Rice is an executive speech writer, who has worked with CEOs, college presidents, government officials, and business owners. Let him help you tell your story. Your words can move your company and your people to action; they can make the difference between a lackluster or thriving culture. Need help on your next speech?