What would cicero say at the holiday party?

What Would Cicero Say? (At the Holiday Party)

“Speech… Toast …”  Dreaded words for introverts to hear at this time of year.  Most of us don’t like speaking in public, so the office party speech, the quick toast, can be a brief, mumbling affair instead of soaring ciceroan oratory.  Can you do better?  If Cicero were your secret Santa, here are the seven rhetorical toys he’d drop in your stocking to help spice up your speaking. Pick a few to help you when it’s your turn to toast.


Metanoia. (For really hammering home the Holidays)

What better way to write your Holiday speech

First think of a nicely classical Holiday greeting, such as “I wish you all happy holidays.”than with a candy cane pencil. Only for this technique you’ll also need an eraser and sharpener because you’re going to turn the usual bland Holiday greetings into something far sharper!

Now take your eraser and audibly rub-out the bland, replacing it with something far sharper:

I wish you all happy holidays. No, I wish you all sensational holidays!

This has been a good year. No, strike that. This has been a fantastic year!

Next year is going to come with many opportunities. Hell no, next year is going to come with tons of opportunities!


Anaphora. (For supporting your theme)

That three wheeler bike gives perfect support no matter how fast you might ride. No wobble for you; there’s a wheel at each corner.

Holiday messages get that same solid stability when you include the same phrase in consecutive lines of your speech:

This year we’ve delivered service that is the best in the market.

We’ve been able to give our customers a product that is the best in the market

And that’s because we have a team of people who are the best in the market!

Let’s celebrate a successful year past

Let’s celebrate a successful year ahead

Let’s celebrate  an incredibly well earned holiday


Tonight we’re celebrating the people that we’ve worked with all year,

The people who make this a great business,

And the most important people of all, our families


Anadiplosis. (For linking ideas)

For one step further on the tricycle theme, try a train-set!

Just as you would link train-sets together with the rear of one car connecting to the front of the car behind it, you can string phrases together with the last word of one line becoming the first word of the next.

It’s a stylish technique that connects themes, and sounds superb.

I wish you happy holidays. Holidays full of excitement. Excitement that brings you back refreshed next year.

Make it a priority this holiday to find some downtimeDowntime allows time for reflection, and reflection gives rise to new ideas; new ideas that lead to new opportunities.


Alliteration. (For a sound that sounds superb)

Seasonal sound-bites often use words that start with the same letters. Let’s take “Suzy Snowflake”, and “Dominick the Donkey”, and then of course there’s the phrase itself: “Happy Holidays”.

Doesn’t “Delightfully delicious” sound so much more delicious than “delicious” alone? Instead of a “peaceful holiday”, how about a “perfectly peaceful holiday“?

Doubling down on opening consonants doubles the delight of delivery.


Oxymoron. (Just in case it’s all getting far too sweet!)

There’s a way to double-up on the double-sound technique, that’ll make your Holiday audience pucker-up with pleasure.

Like the most mouth-watering of Holiday candies, this treat starts sour, and then turns sweet!

Take two words that start with the same letter, but have more or less opposite meanings. Now try colliding them together. Make sure the first one’s nasty, and the second one’s nice!

Fearsomely festive

Disgustingly delightful

Fiendishly fun-filled

Horribly happy

It’s a tasty little contradiction that offers sweetness with a twist.


Polysyndeton. (For listing accomplishments)

“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen, On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen.”

Each name stands-out brighter than a Santa suit in a snow-drift. This is because each is emphasised by the stressed word that appears before it. Imagine if the line went:

“Now Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.” They’d all become one long stretch-reindeer blur.

For lists of accomplishments, make each stand proud by replacing commas, with the word “and”:

This year we’ve launched products and won clients and expanded the business and been more successful than ever before.

We’ve grown the team and increased our service levels and developed the business.

The Holidays are a time to be together; together with our families and our friends and our neighbours and all those most important to us.

To pack items into a list without those items blurring, remember the old saying:

“Many ‘ands make lists work.”


Argumentum a Fortiori. (For encouraging miraculous achievements)

Every stocking should include at least one book, and we’re going with Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

Charlie Brown conjures the holiday magic from the unpromising foundation of that poor little Christmas Tree. The last one on the lot, it had lost all it’s needles. Even the top had gone crooked. It’s was a Charlie Brown Tree, and everybody laughed at it.

But Charlie Brown’s indomitable spirit made that tree glitter.

Where have your team conquered seemingly unconquerable odds. Emphasise those moments. Celebrate those moments. Conjure the magic of past achievements, and your team will conjure magical achievements to come.

“We’ve grown the business. If we can grow the business in a recession year like this, then think what we can achieve next year.”

“We’d all agree that project ABC was the most demanding assignment we’ve ever been asked to do. It was a tight deadline. It was a challenging client. And they kept changing the specs. And still we achieved it! If we can meet that sort of pressure, we can meet anything!”


Litotes. (For tackling the painful memories)

A lump of coal in the stocking means someone’s been bad. There are times though when it isn’t someone who’s been bad, but something that’s been bad, such as hard times or tough decisions during the year just passed.

In a Holiday speech, your team will expect you to reference those times, but with this being a celebration you don’t want to collapse the party spirit.

Negatives need acknowledging without re-animating, so use a “not……but…” structure:

This past year has not been without it’s challenges, but……

There have been times when this past year has not been the easiest, but……

We’ve had to make decisions that have not been happy ones, but……

Follow that “but…” with an uplifting statement. You will have nodded to the tough times, but immediately re-directed your audience to better times to come.

We hope these few rhetorical gifts to stuff in your stocking will serve you well. Wishing you happy speaking and peppy perorations at the holiday party.


Peter WattsPeter is a writer, trainer, and speaker on all aspects of presenting. He coaches business executives in how to be at their best when on their feet. His bi-weekly blog, The Presenters’ Blog, examines core disciplines of public speaking and looks at how those disciplines are being illustrated by new stories around the world. Follow him @speak2all


Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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