The holidays are here and that means holiday parties.  Great!  We've worked hard all year and we deserve to eat our favorite foods, drink a tad too much and maybe say or do a few things we'll regret next year.  Or not.  It's really easy to forget that the folks we're celebrating with over the buffet and bar are the ones we'll be back to work with come January 2nd.

      One great opportunity arises at this time of year:  A chance to make a short speech offering a few well-chosen words of peace on earth, goodwill toward men and women.  Business parties are a chance to get to know associates and colleagues on a whole 'nother level.  The trick is to say just enough to keep the holiday spirit going but not go on so long that folks start looking longingly at the drink table.

      If it's up to you to prepare the holiday speech at this year's party, beware of the urge to just wing it.  Happens all the time.  There's an Evil Gremlin who sits on your left shoulder and whispers in your ear, "You don't need to rehearse.  You did this last year.  You know this stuff cold. All you need is an outline, and you can just go for it!"

      Uh-oh!  Bad advice.  Really bad because our first tendency is to agree.  "Hmmm, maybe he's right. I'm short on time. I've done a holiday speech before. I don't need to rehearse. I'll just go for it."

      If you're lucky, almost immediately, the Good Angel on your right shoulder will whisper into that ear, "Waaaait a minute! Are you kidding? You know how important it is to rehearse your speech at least 3 times before you give it. Do you want me to tell you all the reasons why? Remember the Six P's: proper preparation prevents (im)possibly poor performance! Make time!"

      "Uh-oh," you think. "Maybe she's right. I really should rehearse."

      I always think of my Evil Gremlin as 'he' and my Good Angel as 'she'. No particular reason.

      Your Evil Gremlin speaks up louder. "Oh, come on! What are you, chicken? You know how to say a few words off the cuff. You're not going to forget anything mid-speech. You're not going to trip over your tongue or be so nervous you can't talk. Just go out there and do your thing."

      Your Good Angel, rather than raising her voice, whispers deeper into your ear, "Yes, you have done this before, and so you know that nothing ever goes totally smoothly. If you assume that nothing will go wrong, you'll 'make an ass out of u and me'!"

      Which one should you listen to?  

      Whether your talk will last 10 minutes or 35, write an outline with just the right amount of information to fill it. Remember to include the highlights of the past year, to name the star performers who are at the party, and to distribute the kudos generously and evenly to everyone who deserves them.  Then, practice it in your office, your living room, the shower, wherever works for you.  But rehearse!

      Here's what you'll learn.  The first time you rehearse it, it'll be too long.  You'll run over anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.  You'll find yourself stumbling over concepts and thank-you's you thought you knew cold, tripping over your tongue, saying 5 words where 2 would do, making awkward transitions, possibly even forgetting one of your key stories or people that you'd like to emphasize.  It's going to be a pretty sorry attempt. And a rude awakening.

      Your second rehearsal will be better. You'll cut those extra minutes that you can live without, make better transitions from kudo to kudo, and repeat certain phrases that you liked in your first rehearsal to implant them in your memory. It'll be much smoother, stay within the allotted time, and reinforce the important points and people you want to emphasize. So far so good.

      Now the piece de resistance!  Your 3rd rehearsal will be smooth, confident, and devoid of annoying little connecting or thinking words like 'uh', 'um', and 'okay'.  Record it and listen to it in the car or before you go to sleep at night, as added reinforcement. You'll be so proud of yourself when you remember the clever descriptive phrases from the first two rehearsals, and end exactly on time.  You're ready!

      With any luck, everything will go like clockwork at the party and you'll give your holiday greeting speech exactly as you rehearsed it. 

      But if your luck runs out, you'll still remember the important things you don't want to forget, and you'll be sure to get those in, even if the speech you planned to last 15 minutes has to be shortened to 10 or even 5.  

      Here's what the audience will do:  They won't know the difference (if you don't tell them).  Because of your rehearsals, you'll remember the key phrases and humorous moments, and the audience will come up afterwards to pat you on the back and tell you how much they enjoyed your talk.  And you'll have the chance to tell them some of what you had to cut out earlier. Nothing ever goes to waste.

      When it comes to speaking in front of a crowd, we're all human. We all want to take shortcuts if we think it'll make our job easier. But remember the Six P's: "Proper preparation prevents (im)possibly poor performance!" How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

      Your Evil Gremlin will go into hiding, probably somewhere in the Bahamas or perhaps Alaska, who knows?  Not to worry. He'll be back next time you have to give a speech. If you're smart, you won't listen to him.