How To Give A Memorable Goodbye Speech

It’s your last day on the job. Your colleagues have gathered in a conference room, gotten you a few nice going away gifts, and purchased a cake in your honor.

Suddenly, your co-workers begin chanting: Speech! Speech! Speech! 

Your adrenaline surges, your heart begins pounding. And, if you’re like most people, you’ll mutter something like this:

“Okay, well, I wasn’t expecting to say anything, but, well, I guess what I’d like to say is that it’s been an amazing eight years here. You’re all an amazing team, you’re like a second family, and we’ve really been through some ups and downs together…okay, a lot of downs together. But I will really miss you, although this isn’t really goodbye, because I’m going to stay in touch with all of you…whether you like it or not!”

101 Ways to Open a Speech Copy Tease Clickable
If your goal is to leave a final, strong impression on your bosses and co-workers, that’s not a great way to do it.

I’ve been guilty of giving that bland goodbye speech as well. When I left Nightline in 1999, for example, the staff gathered in a conference room to send me off. Ted Koppel, the host of the program was there, as were the executive producer, all of the senior producers, on-air correspondents, and others. Frankly, I was overwhelmed that so many important people thought enough of me to have gathered in my honor. I made it through a few sentences, got emotional, and abruptly ended my speech.

As I look back at that moment, I wish I could do it over again. If I could, my goodbye speech would have looked more like this:

“Most people are nervous to meet Ted Koppel. I know I was. When I finally worked up the nerve to say hello, I confidently stuck out my hand and introduced myself. I then promptly took a step forward and caught my foot on an open file cabinet drawer, which sent me plummeting to the ground. (pause) It took me a good two weeks to get past that humiliation.

When I did, I quickly learned that this was a place that offered endless opportunities to a young staffer, far more than I had earned. You were open to my story ideas, welcomed me into edit rooms, sent me on video shoots, and gave me the opportunity to make some very public mistakes. People know Nightline is a great show, but they probably don’t know how great its staff is at making a young, aspiring journalist feel like a fully initiated part of the team.

My mother tells me that my grandfather never missed a Nightline. He died in 1982, when I was nine-years-old and when Nightline was only two. To this day, every night when I hear that opening theme music, I think of him, and how proud he would have been to know that his grandson worked here, with all of you. Thank you.”

Celebrating a colleague's birthday in the office

There’s no specific formula for an effective goodbye speech, but the version I drafted above offers a few ideas:

  1. Anecdotes work well. The first is humorous and self-effacing; the second is heartfelt and offers a bit of personal biography.
  2. In between, you’ll find a serious point—a thank you for not making an inexperienced staffer feel so inexperienced.
  3. The remarks are purposefully short but pack a lot of content into remarks that take just 90 seconds to deliver.
  4. And, best of all, it’s original. No one else could deliver those remarks, because no one else had all of those specific experiences.

The next time you leave a job, challenge yourself. Deliver a goodbye speech that will be remembered long after you finish your slice of goodbye cake.