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How to Give a Great Retirement Speech

Retirement speeches require tact, sincerity and preparation

Credit: iStock

by Joe Casey

At some point in your life, you may be asked to give a retirement speech for a colleague, friend – or even your boss.

Sounds easy? Well, you’ll want to be prepared and navigate some of the unique nuances presented by this type of speech.

A lot can go wrong, if you’re not mindful.


Focus on The Purpose of Your Retirement Speech



Start with Rule #1:


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


 – Maya Angelou


If you keep that top of mind, you’ll do well.



Avoid These 7 Pitfalls



If you’re not careful in planning your retirement speech, you could end up doing more harm than good. Don’t be that co-worker or that Boss. Here are some real-life examples I’ve seen that you’ll want to avoid:


The Joker – A retirement speech is a tricky situation for humor. You will be likely to be speaking to an audience with different levels of familiarity with the retiree being honored. You may be tempted to revel in the legendary stories from that conference in Chicago or that Girls Night Out in Miami, but not everyone will appreciate that. It’s ok to use humor, but it’s wise to stop and consider your audience. It’s awkward for everyone when humor lands wrong. Especially for you.


The Out of Touch Well-Wisher –  Retirement has changed dramatically in recent years. It is a much longer period of time than it used to be. Today, retirement often spans twenty to thirty years – or more. But, our beliefs and quotes about retirement haven’t caught up yet. It’s easy to use sentiments that simply don’t fit retirement today. Anecdotes about retiring to the rocking chair, the front porch, and the gold watch have all themselves been retired. For example, according to several surveys, the majority of people today (as high as 70%) expect to continue to work in some way during retirement. The odds are high that the person you’re speaking about may not be completely done with work. If they are, they’re probably planning an active retirement that’s very different than those of retirees a generation ago. Using well-worn retirement clichés risk making you look tone-deaf.


The Ageist – Ageism is prevalent in our society today. Many people aren’t aware that some of their statements are considered ageist. Some comments you may have heard in earlier retirement speeches are now considered insensitive. Be careful not to offend your honoree or others in the audience.


The Overlooker – You don’t want your retiree to leave feeling underappreciated. If you’re not well-prepared, you may forget to express a genuine appreciation for the person and what they’ve contributed to the organization.


The Truth StretcherOn the other hand, it’s a mistake to puff up a person’s accomplishments in a retirement speech. A tell-tale sign is that co-workers start exchanging knowing glances ( “Bob certainly didn’t do that!”). Worse yet, the honoree will know if you’re stretching it too.


The Rambling WreckYou’ve probably been in an audience when speakers didn’t fully prepare. You could see and feel their anxiety. They didn’t seem to have a sense of where they are going. What did most of them do? They kept talking … and talking. They meandered down paths that they conjured up on the fly and went go on and on. Winging it showed that they didn’t think this was important enough to prepare for in advance. Not the right message.


The Robot – On the other hand, you’ve also probably heard speakers who are so well-prepared, so well organized and efficient that everything ran like clockwork. They hit all their marks – except for one thing. They forget to express any emotion. They left the guest of honor and the audience feeling flat, and let down.


7 Steps to a Great Retirement Speech


  1. Think About How You Want the Person to Feel – Always remember Rule #1 (above).


  1. Use a Simple Framework – Map out a straightforward framework to organize your thoughts and clarify your main messages. It will provide you with guideposts to keep you on track when you deliver your speech.

It can be as simple as:


A. Thank Your Audience

B. Express Why You’re All Here

C. Talk About How This Person Made a Difference

D. Extend Best Wishes on Their Next Chapter


Have to give a Retirement Speech? 7 Tips to Help You Nail It Click To Tweet



  1. Prepare  – As with any other presentation, doing a bit of research will pay off. Talk with a few people who’ve worked closely with the person you’re honoring. Note the words they use to describe him or her. Develop the main themes. The most memorable retirement speeches don’t spend too much time on a career highlight reel. Instead, they share genuine descriptions of how someone went about their job and the difference they’ve made to others. Talk more about who they are (not who they were) and how he or she impacted others.


  1. Review Your Remarks with Someone You Trust – Once you’re clear on what you want to say, seek out that trusted person who’ll give you honest feedback. It may be your spouse, significant other, a co-worker or a friend. It’s that person who knows what you want to say and can help you tweak how you’ll say it.


  1. Balance the Past and The Future – Keep in mind that your honoree is probably excited about their retirement. They don’t want to hear a eulogy. Cover the past, but also spend time on the freedom that they’ll be enjoying. Keep it upbeat.


  1. Be Brief – Keep it short. Stay on message.


  1. Be Sincere – Keep it real. Offer your genuine sentiments and well wishes on the future. Make your new retiree feel honored, respected and valued.


A retirement speech is one of the last experiences someone will go through in a career. By taking time to prepare, you can make it a memorable gift.


Joe Casey is a former senior HR executive at Merrill Lynch, who’s created a second career as a retirement coach. He holds a Masters in Gerontology from the University of Southern California and, as a retirement coach and Designing Your Life coach, he helps people discover What’s Next after their primary career. Learn more on The Retirement Conversation podcast.

1 Comment

  1. Bev Bachel says:

    Thanks for this timely post. A colleague just asked for advice and thanks to this I knew just where to direct her.

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