THE BARMITZVAH is going really well — the portion has been sung beautifully, the party is wonderful... and then the speeches start. He is nervous, he mumbles, then launches into a lengthy and comainducing anecdote — and that’s just the dad.
There is no doubt that some barmitzvah boys and batmitzvah girls (and their parents) are confident, eloquent, funny and engaging when they get up to speak. Then there are barmitzvah boys like me. Let’s just say that my speech was not a triumph, though on the positive side it was so unmemorable that no-one, including me, remembers a word of what I said.
In certain key regards, I was spot-on however. I didn’t bore the guests with a long monologue — I believe it lasted less than 60 seconds. I remembered to say thanks to my parents, although you would have to have been standing within three feet of me to have heard anything at all. And there there was no inappropriate language... apart from the one occasion that I lost my place on the page.
Lawrence Bernstein is a professional speech writer who has composed many a barmitzvah speech. He has some very sensible tips on how to ensure that your guests are still awake when the barmitzvah boys sits down. He puts brevity at the top of the list. “I would say that for the barmitzvah boy or batmitzvah girl, five minutes would be the optimum time. These days there could be five or six speakers and if they all speak for 10 minutes you could be in for an hour of speeches when everyone just wants to get on and enjoy the party.”
Once the speech has been pared down, look at structure. And that means avoiding thanking everyone from the synagogue caretaker to the gardener. Bernsteins says: “One of the biggest flaws in a speech is the shopping-list approach. You may feel that there are 17 crucial people to thank, but for the audience it can be very dull.” Avoid long anecdotes that are interesting only to the three people involved, and ensure when composing the speech you bear in mind that it is to be spoken out loud. Bernstein advises that you write in short sound bites, rather than clunky paragraphs.
Members of the family must communicate with each other. “Make sure that everyone who is making a speech knows what all the others are saying, so that you don’t get the same story six times over.”
Above all, bear in mind the audience. “Think about what the 100 people in the room want to hear. When people are writing speeches they forget that when they are forced to listen to long-winded, irrelevant anecdotes they get bored themselves.”
And one final piece of advice — beware the internet. Bernstein explains: “There are some brilliant jokes online, but they have all been used before, hundreds of times. When I sit down to write a speech for someone I always start from scratch. It has to be original.” We can all raise a glass to that.
I’d like to thank my PA; my voice coach...
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