How To Hack ‘Leaving Speeches’


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How should you prepare to offer a ‘work’ leaving speech?

In most organisations, leaving speeches are awkward and a drain on everyone’s time.

It’s interesting how the psychology of work and the relationships with people around you start to change once resignation is tendered. Another odd part of the process is the politics of leaving and the procedures for departing.

Some organisations conduct exit interviews; others light years ahead with stay interviews.

I’ve only had to provide a leaving speech three times in my teaching career. Once, I wasn’t offered. In another, I took redundancy, was placed on garden leave, and given no opportunity. In the three others, we laughed, and I shed a tear or two …

Speaking publicly

In our schools, where hundreds of adults are working in the business of public speaking, some of us are very reluctant to speak publicly or reflect on our time with our departing employer. Some larger schools can see 30+ people leaving in one year! A small minority of schools don’t provide staff with any opportunity to ‘say goodbye’ …

Our time in some periods of employment can be quite short (in some cases) for the impact we have on people and the organisation. However, leaving speeches can be an opportunity for you to celebrate and make a difference in the lives of the staff you are leaving (or quite the opposite).

As an employee of a (soon-to-be-departing) school or college, you can still make a difference.

In some cases, depending on your confidence level and future employment status, you can leave your employer and the people who work there with a range of provocations so things can improve. In some respects, leaving an organisation gives you a degree of autonomy and a small window of opportunity to speak up.

If you are thinking of offering a leaving speech, have been asked to or don’t want to, here are some tips:

Planning a not-so-polite leaving speech

  1. So, you do/don’t want to speak publicly?
  2. You’re feeling a little aggrieved about your departure and experiences?
  3. If you really want to, write an email and ‘schedule’ it after you’ve left the premises.
  4. Perhaps you want to say a few public ‘thanks’ but also have part of your story heard?
  5. I’ve seen this many times as a school leader. The reality is, not everyone will know the full story, so keep your emotions and professionalism in check. Make it brief, state the facts and don’t forget, you’re still legally employed, and your actions can be liable.

Ultimately, what do you want to be remembered for? Fast forward a few months and you will have moved on. The last thing you want to do is look back on your employment with a degree of embarrassment. The education circuit is small!

Planning a polite leaving speech

  1. Focus on the positive.
  2. Find something you admire and respect about the organisation.
  3. Tell a story or two about your time in employment.
  4. Acknowledge the employer’s contribution to you and what you hope you have reciprocated.
  5. It’s always worth mentioning one key person in the organisation. Someone you believe who makes the day-to-day work much easier for everyone. Thank them for their service.
  6. Wish colleagues all the best for the future.

Most speeches are courteous and a tad dull.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with being polite, most people want some light-hearted conversations at the end of term. Try some of the tips below …

Planning a memorable leaving speech

  1. Everyone loves tears of laughter on the last day of term.
  2. Take the ‘heat off’ you – especially if you get nervous or emotional – by using a set of props to tell a story.
  3. Get someone else to stand at the front alongside you as they hold the props/you tell a story.
  4. Use it as an opportunity to celebrate/make fun of a colleague/showcase your talents.
  5. Turn your speech into a ‘pub quiz’ retrieval practice exercise – everyone will enjoy the game and want to win.
  6. Play a recorded video; capture 30 seconds of clips from pupils celebrating what they love about the school.
  7. Dress up!

I remember my line manager grabbing the one-star reviews from my first book and reading them out aloud to all staff. It was an eye-watering experience …

Read my detailed guide: How to prepare for public speaking?


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