18 Tips to Give the Best Employee Appreciation Speech

Cartoon of two people talking to each other.

Part of being a great manager is knowing how to speak to your team. Day-to-day, person-to-person motivational speaking is easy enough–but preparing the right words for a personalized employee of the month speech, a heartfelt retirement speech, or a staff appreciation speech at the end of a busy season presents a different challenge. Public speaking can be intimidating! Giving a good employee appreciation speech requires that you find the right words and deliver them well.

We’ve compiled the best tips for giving an employee recognition speech or employee appreciation speech.  

1. Write down your key points.

Identify who your speech is about and what you want to convey to them. What are they being recognized for? What makes them unique?

2. Avoid being vague.

Use specific language about positive employee behaviors. Instead of “You did a great job on Tuesday,” you might say “On Tuesday, you exceeded all your targets and supported your colleagues in meeting theirs.”

3. Cite examples from coworkers.

This tip is doubly helpful if you don’t know the honored employee well enough. Source stories and insight from the people they work with closely for a speech that is personal and warm. 

4. Use anecdotes.

Take the opportunity to share personal reflections you have of your interactions with this employee. What were your impressions of this person when you met them, and what are they today? 

5. Strike the right tone.

Consider the most appropriate mood for your speech overall. Choose your language–and your jokes–carefully. Do you want to sound funny, motivating, or laid back?

6. Don’t make it about you.

You may be speaking the words, but this is not your moment. While writing (and delivering) your speech, put all your attention on the employee(s). 

7. Say thank you.

Always begin and end a speech to your employees with thanks! By definition, appreciation is a rise in the value of an asset over time. Your people are your biggest asset. Make sure to thank them early and often. 

8. Keep it short.

Good speeches are succinct.  Excessively long speeches may get tuned out or make your employees uncomfortable. 

9. Practice, practice, practice.

If public speaking makes you nervous, practice in front of a mirror to get comfortable speaking the words aloud. Or, try a supportive audience–a pet, a partner, or a colleague. 

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10. Don’t wait too long.

Timeliness is essential. You don’t want to deliver your October Employee of the Month speech in November–the effect wears off at that point. It may come across as an afterthought to your team.

11. Be aware of what makes this person feel valued.

Do you know how your employees like to be recognized? Someone uncomfortable with public praise may not respond well to a speech. In these cases, a private conversation or a well-written email–perhaps with upper management included–are equally impactful alternatives. 

12. Choose the location carefully.

Consider if you should make this speech in a formal or an informal setting. Employee of the month speeches may make sense in the break room over breakfast, but a milestone retirement speech may work best over an offsite toast. 

13. Don’t put the person on the spot.

Your speech should not be the first time an employee receives accolades from you. Speaking publicly is a way to acknowledge the accomplishments of individuals in the presence of their peers. Speeches should occur at a time and place that works with the employee’s schedule.  

14. Be genuine.

When giving a speech, remember to be yourself. Speak to your employees as you would normally, and only say what you authentically mean.   

15. Make eye contact.

Psychologically speaking, eye contact signals care, trustworthiness, and confidence–qualities we look for in good leaders. It also helps hold the attention of the person you’re speaking to. 

16. Speak directly to the employee you’re honoring.

Put your focus on the employee you are recognizing. This is their moment–make sure that they feel seen. 

17. Be aware of the crowd.

Public speeches happen in front of an audience. Don’t forget to speak to the crowd! If you have time, it may make sense to source anecdotes live. Ask your colleagues to join in a round of applause for the honored employee. 

18. Follow your speech with written appreciation.

Speeches are short. Prolong their positive effects and keep your employee motivated by sending a written note after the fact. Include any raise-related documentation.

Other questions about how to give a great employee speech

How do you give an employee a speech?

Public speaking organization Toastmasters International suggests using gestures and body language cues as tools to emphasize speech. Some proven tips include eye contact, controlling nervous mannerisms, physically acting out verbs,  matching facial expressions to words, and moving around the stage/space. 

What do you say in an employee recognition speech?

There are three critical elements you should touch on in any employee recognition speech: the positive behavior, the effect it had, and the thank you. The fun anecdotes you choose to share are a bonus!

How do you write an employee’s appreciation speech?

There is no right way to write an employee’s appreciation speech. Try incorporating the behavior–effect–thanks model into remarks about your employee to cover the essentials: 

“Michelle, when you went above and beyond by [behavior], it impacted the team positively by [effect]. [Thank you] for making a difference every day.”

How do you praise an employee in words?

Build a culture of recognition over time. Practice giving feedback and praising employees regularly. Examples of phrases you can say:

  • You saved the day when…
  • I was impressed when you…
  • Your hard work makes a difference every day because…

How do you show appreciation at work?

Your employees inherently receive appreciation differently. Implement regular check-ins to get to know them, and their preferences. To really dive in, read The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White, #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The 5 Love Languages

Deciding how to give the best employee appreciation speech can be overwhelming. At the end of the day, speaking from the heart and showing you care goes a long way. With the list of tips above, you’ll know how to give the best employee appreciation speech in no time.

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About the Author: Meghna Jaradi is a freelance writer and events manager with experience working for the Seattle Times, Kitchen Arts & Letters, Book Larder, Peddler Brewing Company, and more. You can contact her on LinkedIn.

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