Farewell speeches 

How to say goodbye graciously

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 10-25-2021

Farewell speeches mark significant departures. They are much more than a casual "see you later" and a mumbled "thanks for everything"  as you dash for the door.

A planned farewell speech crystallizes the moment of leaving, giving it focus, form, and dignity. It provides an opportunity to publicly acknowledge people and events, as well as to graciously show your appreciation and gratitude for them.

And that, I think, is the sort of leaving speech most people want to give! 

What's on this page?

Everything you need to prepare an excellent farewell speech, including:

Click the video for a complete overview.

Occasions for giving a farewell speech

A farewell speech is frequently expected when leaving a job to take another. It is either given by the person leaving or, to the person leaving by a close colleague, often their manager or boss.

Image: woman waving after a departing train. Text: synonyms for goodbye superimposed over the image.

Other situations calling for farewell addresses are graduations (leaving a school, a class...), retirements, (leaving the paid work-force), or perhaps when a long-time member of your club or neighborhood departs. A funeral speech or eulogy is yet another form of a goodbye or farewell speech.

Retirement & funeral farewell speeches

Click to find out how to prepare, write, deliver and read examples of:

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A particularly nasty trap: I'm a masterful impromptu speaker, by magic!

I think one of the biggest public speaking traps is allowing yourself to play that old con game in which you suddenly, without regular practice, become a marvelous impromptu speaker.

When asked to say a few words at the function marking either your leaving, or someone else's, you'll be fluent! You'll remember everyone and everything you wanted to mention.

Your farewell message will be structured. It will open with a flourish, offer something of substance and close with a slice of unforgettable wisdom. Perfect.

Reality can be nasty sometimes. "Umming and erring", rambling, missing out things and ending with a limp "Yeah, well, that's it" and a shrug exposes the con job you did on yourself. Yep, fell for it. Again. Sigh.

Just like the Scouts: Be prepared!

Think ahead. Plan. You will know if you're expected to give a farewell speech. 

Learn from either your own previous experience or from what you've witnessed. Be it the good, the bad or the ugly!

Image- retro pencil sketch of girl hiking up mountain. Text: Be prepared. It's not just for Scouts.

Winging it in the workplace

There is a fine line between formal and informal, or prepared and unprepared, particularly in a workplace. Straying too far on either side of it may not be received well! The impact of winging it (speaking without prior thought and preparation) could ripple on in ways you have little control over.

Like for instance, being overlooked in the future rather than being offered the opportunity to speak on behalf of your colleagues and your company again.

Pitching your speech appropriately and delivering it well takes practice. For your own sake do it.

Good communication skills, (which includes public speaking), will open more hearts, minds, and therefore doors, than any other skill you might have! 

(For more, please see The Importance of Communication Skills in Business.)

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Hallmarks of gracious farewell speeches

So having established the need to do more than bumble through a hastily cobbled together farewell speech, here's what you are aiming for. 

These are the characteristics of a speech an audience, (your co-workers, employers, classmates, friends, fellow club members ...), would be delighted to hear.

  1. It is respectful and sincere. The speech expresses appropriate honest and genuine feelings about people, events and ideas.
  2. It is positive. The speech acknowledges outcomes, projects and events positively, without undue exaggeration or puffery, and expresses hope for the future. If being positive is difficult be very careful about publicly passing judgement or making comments that could cause embarrassment or something far worse. 
  3. It is brief. The speech is succinct and concise, minus padding or waffle. There are no prizes for rambling on and on. Three to five minutes is enough!

Image - Queen Elizabeth (UK) Text: Goodness gracious darling, what an absolutely spiffing farewell speech. Fit for the Queen. Love it, X

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Content ideas for a leaver's going away speech

If it's you who is leaving and you're preparing a speech to mark the occasion, here is a list of the type of material expected, and appreciated, in a farewell speech.

  1. A brief summary of involvement eg. how long you've been with the company, club etc
  2. What you have enjoyed, admired or appreciated about the workplace, job, neighborhood, club
  3. The admiration and appreciation you have for the people - their qualities/skills
  4. What you feel about leaving
  5. Your gratitude and thanks for support, opportunities to learn, friendship...
  6. Special memories or good humored anecdotes
  7. Your reasons for leaving
  8. What, or where, you are going to
  9. Hopes and good wishes for those remaining

Obviously you're not expected to cover all nine points in lavish detail. Pick what feels right to you. Apply the guidelines and, prepare your speech.

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A sample farewell speech to colleagues

To show you how the content suggestions and "graciousness" guidelines work together I've written a sample speech. That's below. 

The speech is 573 words long. Depending how fast or slow you speak, that will take approximately four minutes to deliver. (You can find out more speech rate here) 

About this speech

The speech is entirely fictional. I've written it from the point of view of a person working for a company called Smith and Black. Here he/she, (I've not defined gender.), led a team which was involved in community initiatives. He/she is leaving to do further study. The speech will be given at a gathering in the company staff room. 

Example of a leaver's farewell speech to colleagues

"Thank you for coming along. I am delighted to see you all here.

Do you realize we've been sharing each other's company for 2920 days? 

We've been together through approximately 417 Mondays. 417 Wednesdays. (Half way! It's the weekend soon. Hang in.) And 417 yay, it's Fridays!

Eight years of fun times, challenging times and everything in between.

And today I am officially leaving you!

In the past some of you have questioned my sanity. Now, standing here in the midst of you all, I'm wondering about it too!

It's bittersweet to leave a workplace you've enjoyed. I might joke about the Monday morning blues, having to return to work after a weekend full of activities centered around family and friends, but that's all it is – a joke. I realize I have been very fortunate. This place, this work, and its people have meant so much to me. I am proud to have been a member of the team here.

Eight years ago you made it easy for me to feel at home. Smith and Black is a rare company. Its workplace is genuinely a mirror of its HR policy. Inclusion is more than a buzz word in a manual here. It's real! That makes it doubly difficult to leave.

Thank you for your belief in me, your support and your friendship. None of us achieve in isolation and the successes we've enjoyed together have been the result of our mutual cooperation and collaboration. It's a pleasure and a privilege to have worked alongside colleagues who understand how to bring the best out in each other.

In the middle of our daily business: meeting targets, initiating projects and developing new ones, it's all too easy to lose sight of the most important element of all in any organization – the person, the people. Us. You and me, as individuals with hearts, minds, and feelings.

That we don't is what makes Smith and Black unique. Thank you Bob for your inspired leadership. Thank you to my team: Monica, Tom and Sam for your trust in me, for your humor and all your hard work.

We've been involved in some outstanding projects together. I'll always remember our “Feed a Friend” out-reach program and its extraordinary success.  The “Red Balloon” initiative had lofty goals which we slaved to bring to fruition, and failed. The hard lessons learned there we deployed in our biggest success of all – the “No Child Left Behind” program. That was magical, inspirational work which will go on making the world a better place.

Thank you.

With so much to be grateful for – outstanding colleagues, an ethical humane company, and meaningful work, it seems perverse to leave.

However, I am!

As some of you already know, I'm going to take up an offer to further my understanding of the practical implementation of diversity policy. It's an amazing course, taught by some of my heroes in the field. This is something I've wanted for several years and the right time to do it is now.

I am going to miss you all. You've been part of my journey for a long time.

I've already packed memories of fun, collaboration, consultation, and friendship into my heart to take with me. Those I'm deeply grateful for.

My wish for you is that you too are able to follow your dreams. This is not goodbye. Per courtesy of email I will never be far away!"

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Content ideas for a farewell speech to a leaver

If you're expected to give a speech on behalf of your club, company ... to a person leaving use the content suggestions below. 

  1. What you have sincerely enjoyed, admired or appreciated about the leaver's contribution to the workplace, club, neighborhood ...
    eg. their role in XXX project, their organizational skills, the chocolate cake they made for special occasions ...
  2. A story or two illustrating the positive qualities of the person leaving
  3. How their departure will impact on those left behind
  4. Good wishes for the future
  5. Presentation of gift on behalf of company

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Graphic with text - Psst if writing a farewell speech is a struggle you could use The Speech Builder and have it done very quickly.

*About The Speech Builder - this is an app that "builds" personalized speeches. There are 3 farewell speeches to choose from: a farewell from an employer to an employee who is leaving, a farewell from a co-worker to another co-worker who is leaving and a farewell from a leaver to the co-workers being left.

It's simple to use, delivers well structured original speeches quickly and relatively cheaply. If you're stuck for time, at just $9.99 USD, this is a good solution.

Take me to the Speech Builder! 

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Writing and delivering your speech

The easiest way to take your content ideas and turn them into a speech is to use an outline. Click the link for a free printable fill-in-the-blanks speech outline.

The speech outline covers the main points you want to make in the order you want to make them. Once you've filled it out, test by saying it out loud.

  • Listen for the flow of information.
    Is it ordered?
    Does each idea link logically?
    Are the transitions clear?
  • Is there a beginning (introduction), body (middle) and conclusion?
  • Is the content, tone and language use right for the occasion and your intended audience?
  • Time the speech. Is it too long? Edit if necessary.
  • And say your speech to a trusted friend or colleague before giving it on the day. This is a safety precaution to ensure  you haven't left out anything that should be in, or put in anything that shouldn't be there!

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3 ways to deliver your prepared farewell speech

Choose what best suits you and the occasion.

1. Read your speech

If the situation is very emotional or you are very emotional this may be the safest way to get everything you want to say out.

Using your completed speech outline as a guide, write the whole speech out. Word for word.

When you print your text out be sure to use a large font so that it is easily read. Double space your lines and number your pages for the same reason.

Here's an article from one of my newsletters on how to read a speech aloud which goes into more detail. For the best results, please read it.

Reading aloud well needs practice. Without it you may find yourself with an audience full of people working very hard to be tolerant!

Image: bored face. Text: No, really. How very interesting. Do go on reading.

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2. Use cue cards

Make brief summary notes on numbered (cue) cards that will serve as memory prompts to guide you from one idea to the next.

These are very good if you have practiced and know your speech. They let you interact with your audience more freely than reading word for word does. The result is a more spontaneous sounding speech.

Click the link to find out more about preparing and using cue cards.

3. Give your speech from memory

If you have time this could be the option to go for. The advantages are that you speak directly to your audience. Because you are not relying on notes you can use readily use gestures and make eye contact.

Check here for tips and techniques on how to remember a speech.

The disadvantage could be the risk of forgetting what you wanted to say entirely through being overcome by the emotion of the occasion but this is significantly lessened through practice.

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Deliver your speech well

Image: Woman in a red dress waving goodbye.

If you'd like to know more about how to deliver your farewell speech well check out these pages:

Manage the nerves 

If you find yourself under attack from a fit of nervous apprehension at the mere thought of giving your goodbye speech look here. Help is a click away.

Please don't use your farewell speech as an opportunity to vent any pent up frustrations you may have, regardless of how tempting it may be. Instead focus on what was undeniably positive and sincerely highlight it. Be the bigger person.

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Expert advice - a little help from our friends

Chad Dyer - Managing Director of MemesBamsChad Dyer

Chad Dyer from MemesBams says:

Is the physical or emotional separation from your friend just fate? Or was the decision to leave yours, or your friend’s? Either way separating from a friend can often be emotional. In some cases ending a friendship can be as difficult as ending a romantic relationship. Harder than a breakup!

Understanding friendship breakups can help you move forward and ease your pain.  Here are some suggested ways to cope after separating from a friend: 

  • Acceptance. The reason for the friendship breakup may simply be out of you and your friend’s control. Sustaining friendship, for instance, can be hard if separated by great distances. Accept you have got to walk your journey on your own and that you'll meet new friends along the way.
  • Evolve. Though you may have been used to dealing with your daily struggles with your pal by your side, realize this could be the time for you to grow and become the person you want to be.
  • Saying farewell to a friend and wishing them well is alright and it can help ease  the pain. You can say it’s not a total goodbye. And that you are hoping to see your friend again.  Despite the uncertainty of that, a grain of hope can do wonders to lighten the burden you're carrying.

If you need help finding the right words to express your feelings take a look at these:  Farewell Sayings for Friends.

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