By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 11-18-2021
The idea at the heart of thanksgiving celebrations is that we pause to take time to fully appreciate, and acknowledge all that is good in our lives. For instance: our families, our friends, our homes and the means to sustain ourselves.
Sometimes the acknowledgment comes in the form of a simple round-robin. One by one each person gathered around the table shares something they are particularly grateful for.
And sometimes one person takes on the task of offering thanks on behalf of all those present.
If that's you this page will help you prepare a thanksgiving speech, or toast, with minimum fuss. (Important because so often the person giving the toast already has a busy schedule!)
You'll find the suggestions good for either an informal toast or a more formally structured short speech.
Your toast or speech will be stronger and more effective based one principal idea or theme rather than a pick and mix assortment; a jumble of different ideas.
A useful way to think of a theme is to imagine it as the uniting thread linking everything you want to say together.
Choose one theme from these below.
- gratitude or thanks for all that is good, wholesome and sustaining in our lives. For example the food we eat, the love we give and receive, our family, our friends, the country we live in, the air we breathe, the parks we play in, our work, freedom of speech, an education ...
- recognition of community - our inter-dependencies - understanding and acknowledging that we are part of a web of existence larger than our individual selves, families or extended families.
This could include everything: moving from our immediate environment, out to the world, and beyond, as beautifully exemplified in this poetic Iroquois Thanksgiving Address.
- celebrating the season. Thanksgiving and the ancient Harvest Festival (celebrating the harvesting of crops in Autumn or Fall) share many common elements. This Wikipedia link will give you an introductory overview - Harvest Festival.
- honor due to those who give or serve in order that we may continue to live.
- acknowledgement of difficult times: losses, trials or challenges that must be faced to move forward.
- resolution and hope: decisions taken to do or not something, an outline of a plan for the future and expressing hope that what you intend or resolve to do will turn out well, to everyone's benefit.
What do the people listening to you expect to hear?
Is it lighthearted stories and recollections or something more solemn and formal?
If it's family and friends you're talking to, it could be a round up of the year's life changing events involving the people present. Like for instance, a marriage, a change of job, or the birth of a child, the challenge of a diagnosis of a serious illness ...
If it's your work or business colleagues the focus will be less personal, and quite likely more formal in tone. Here a round up of events affecting the company could be appropriate.
Identifying the audience's needs and expectations will help you choose the theme and then subsequently, how you treat it.
And it would probably be wiser to leave contentious subjects like politics and religion quite alone!
Perhaps it is a combination of all three intentions.
Knowing what you want to achieve, or the main purpose behind giving your speech, will also help guide your choice of theme, tone and content.
Is it formal or informal?
your speech/toast be delivered in an intimate setting like a family dining
room or will it be in hall and delivered from behind a lectern?
Macy's parade, football, Plymouth pilgrims, turkey, pumpkin pie ...
Like many traditions, the origins of thanksgiving have been blurred by time. Not only are there contradictory accounts, and differing interpretations of events dependent on viewpoint but there's also the inevitable, and ongoing, introduction of other cultural and religious celebrations. Today's Thanksgiving celebration is an evolving fusion of them all.
History.com* offers 16 videos covering known, and less well known, aspects of the celebration. Find out about the history of the Thanksgiving Parade, the first football broadcast, Mayflower myths or pumpkin pie. There is a lot to choose from!
*Unfortunately this content is only available in selected geographical areas.
You're ready to take step two once you've made the decision about theme, you're clear about who you're talking to and, what you want your speech to achieve.
This step is planning what you're going to say. To make the entire process easier download a blank outline form from the link below.
Even if you only want to talk briefly, (ie. just a minute ), it helps to plan.
Download a printable fill-in-the-blanks speech outline form.
The form will guide and help you structure your speech, reducing the overall time it takes to prepare it.
In short, it will make getting from wondering what to talk about to 'got it sorted' easier.
This is the "heart" of your speech. You will add the opening and conclusion later.
(Obviously you don't need to slavishly fill in every section of the form. If you want a brief speech/toast you may only need 1 main point.)
Based on your chosen theme note down 1, 2 or 3 main points on your speech outline form.
with the most important first. For each point you make give one or two
examples to illustrate it. When you give your speech you'll link these points with transitions.*
*(If you need more explanation of transitions you'll find it here on this page: how to write a speech.)
To end well, reinforce your theme, summarize your main points and finish with strong statement or maybe a quotation that will resonate on in the minds of your audience.
Now let's see how you go from outline to speech.
In my example thanksgiving speech below I've given each segment a label so that you can easily see the flow of material.
Before you read it, here's a little bit of context which will help you imagine it being said more clearly.
I'd like to introduce you to the Jones family. They've all gathered at Cheryl and Jake's place this year.
Around the table there's Andrew, Marci, Kevin, Liz, Merel, Ben, Simon, Cheryl and Jake.
Cheryl has chosen the theme 'gratitude' and will give this small speech before the family eats. It's approximately 1.5 -2 minutes long when spoken aloud.
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the best kind of giving, thanks giving. It’s really lovely to see you around our table.
Transition and introduction of Point One (the main idea):
Haven’t we had an extraordinary year?
In January we were delighted when Andrew took out a well deserved first in the County men’s cross country skiing competition.
When Spring finally arrived it turned out that flowers weren’t the only things blooming. Marci was expecting.
Then Kevin got a new job, one that he’s worked so incredibly hard for. Liz rediscovered her joy of gardening. When Merel graduated we couldn’t have been prouder.
Look around! Here we all are and we have so much to be thankful for.
Even the challenges. And we’ve had quite a few of those.
Ben got ill. We were immensely relieved when the diagnosis finally came through. At least we know what it is.
Sadly Aunt Ede passed on.
The company Simon worked for folded.
Each of those have been tough. But we’re stronger, more compassionate people as a result.
How did we do it?
We did it together. We Joneses keep up with each other, in good times as well as the ones that test us.
My thanks giving begins and ends with family. You. I am grateful to each one of you for being here today, and for being in our lives. Jake and I love you.
Here's to us!
And now let’s eat.
"If you count all your assets, you always show a profit."
- Robert Quillen
Click for a selection of thank you quotations similar to this one to use in your speech.
To make sure you are thankful, and happy with yourself, after you've given your speech do check these five tips.
Please don't be tempted to wing it. Or to convince yourself that because you want to come across as natural you don't need to practice.
Sometimes that works, and sometimes it goes horribly, embarrassingly wrong. You don't have to experience that.