Bar and bat mitzvahs: how to write speeches everyone will remember

People keep asking me for advice on speeches for bar and bat mitzvahs and although I’ve (ghost)written several in the past, I’m not Jewish. That’s why I thought it only right that I should ask my good (Jewish) friend Lilach Bullock, the internet marketing guru, to share her thoughts on what makes a great speech for these occasions.

I have interspersed Lilach’s comments with a few of my own tips based on my experience of writing such speeches for Jewish families, and of speechwriting generally.

First of all, for the benefit of non-Jewish readers, I asked Lilach what do bar and bat mitzvahs actually mean within the Jewish culture?

“For the children, it’s a coming of age and something that you work incredibly hard for. To be able to stand up in front of several hundred people and take a service (or a large chunk of it) is a challenge for most people let alone a 13 year old. For the families, it’s a very proud moment and it brings together families and friends. To many, particularly boys, a bar mitzvah is seen as being as big as a wedding!”

What would you say are the key elements of good bar/bat mitzvah speeches?

“The beginning should be about your child’s preparation – perhaps to discuss the religious side, what part of the Torah did they read and how it has an emotional connection with them. The middle should focus on the moment – sharing what it is like to be there right now and the significance of the tradition to them and their family – it all helps to reinforce the importance of the moment. The end should be their opportunity to thank everyone who has helped them prepare; obviously their parents and the Rabbi but often there are other people, perhaps members of the congregation who may have helped them. As well they can talk about their hopes for the future and things that are especially important to them. Remember that humour is a great way to build rapport with their audience!”

My comments: humour is a wonderful way not only to build a rapport with your audience, but also to break the ice and get everyone connecting on a more relaxed level. But beware of using humour in a speech if you’re not comfortable with it. In the case of one family for whom I wrote speeches for dad, older brother, bar mitzvah boy and mum, dad was not comfortable with any jokes and I made sure his speech was focused on just the things that really mattered to him – his gratitude to the audience, his family, and above all to his son who had done such an amazing job.

The two sons, on the other hand, wanted as much banter as possible and I spent a few days with them sorting out all the in-family jokes which, on the day, had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Mum was terrified but wanted to say something funny, briefly, so I just wrote her a short gag about how she’d love to say more but she had to get back into the kitchen to do the dessert (this was at the Dorchester, a very swanky hotel in London!)

Humour works if people like to be funny, but whatever you do, don’t expect people to be funny if they don’t want to.

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To browse more than 50 other articles on how to write better speeches for social and business occasions, click right here on HTWB
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What advice would you have for youngsters who want to (or feel they should) make a speech on the day?

“I would say go for it!  You’ve already had to take the service so to speak personally afterwards with your family and friends and more importantly thank everyone is very important.  Remember to relax and enjoy it, you will NEVER forget this day.”

My comments: absolutely right. Although your child is only 13, as Lilach suggests by the time they get to the speeches after they have taken the service, they’ve already become a good public speaker. Tell them to use the confidence they’ve gained to speak to their audience now, preferably with a short speech they’ve thought about carefully and learned so they can deliver it easily.

And for parents and siblings, it’s quite sensible to follow a similar path. Speak about the issues that matter most; your pride in your child / grandchild / sibling … the significance of this important day to you personally, and perhaps a brief humorous look at your relationship with the bar or bat mitzvah kiddie.

But don’t make the mistake that another client of mine did a while back. He had asked me to provide some good jokes for his welcoming speech after his daughter’s bat mitzvah, which I did. However he then sent me back his draft of the whole speech including the introductory gags we had worked on which were great, but were followed by 15 minutes’ worth of reminiscences about his daughter when she was a baby/toddler/weenie … her favorite toys, their names, her teething, her potty training, her nursery experiences, etc., etc. My heart sank.

What was I to do? Tell him now, gently, or hear afterwards that his wife and daughter had dumped him in the Regent’s Canal (they lived in north London) dressed in a concrete overcoat? I held my breath and told him that today’s 13 year-old girls would sooner spit at Justin Bieber in the eye than be humiliated by daddy’s sentimentality.

Tip for parents: by all means express your pride in your bar or bat mitzvah speech, but if you get too emotionally parental take a cab home and lock all your doors.

If you want more advice on how to prepare, write and give a great speech, check out Suzan St Maur’s eBook, “Super Speeches: how to write and deliver them well.”

With many, many thanks to Lilach Bullock who is a business owner, social media consultant, internet mentor and founder of Socialable.co.uk. A keynote speaker at business and marketing seminars, Lilach consults on and teaches about online marketing. Her second book, “Influencing with Images,” achieved a number one on Amazon within Sales & Marketing

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  1. I wish I’d known you when my daughters were batmizvahed! Suze, you’d have really helped me with some humour – I was SO emotional. Great post and good content from Lilach.

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