How To: A Question of Manners

To thank, or not to thank, your audience.

By Margaret Page, DTM


To thank or not to thank – that is the question. When you are finished giving a speech, should you say “thank you” to your audience?

Proper etiquette plays a big part in Toastmasters meetings, and the “Do you thank the audience?” question lies at the heart of good “Toastmanners.” The issue sparks spirited debate in the Toastmasters world, as shown by a discussion earlier this year among the Official Toastmasters International Members Group on LinkedIn.

Some members said that when you finish a speech with the words “thank you,” your conclusion lacks creativity; end it with more dramatic impact, they urged. “Picture leaving your audience with a ‘Big Bang’ [ending] – a story or thought that will leave them wanting more,” said Sarah Hilton, a member of two clubs in London, Ontario, Canada. “‘Thank you’ does not create this experience for your audience.”

But others argued that a thank you at the end is like an unwritten social contract between speaker and audience. “I have tried the most thunderous, rousing endings in the world, and the audience will not clap until I say, ‘Thank you.’... that is their cue to clap,” notes Sue Gaulke, a member of the Hood River club in Hood River, Oregon.

Other members said each situation needs to be judged on its own. For example, you might say “thank you” if you’re speaking at a fund raiser but not if you’re giving a speech to inform or convince.

As an etiquette professional, I side with those in the pro-thank you camp who advocate thanking one’s audience every time. I believe gratitude on the part of the speaker should be clearly conveyed.


A Little Background…
I first wrote about this subject in the August 2007 issue of the Toastmaster magazine. (That “My Turn” article was referenced in the LinkedIn discussion.) My position is that audience members give speakers something of great value that deserves a thank you: They give their precious time and (presumably) their full attention. Those two things alone allow you to do what you came to the lectern to do – present material of importance to them.

I once heard Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president, give a speech in Vancouver, Canada, and at the end of the speech he took the time to thank everybody, right down to the lighting technicians. I found this impressive – it demonstrated thoughtfulness and impeccable manners.

However, it’s also true that concluding your speech with a polite “thank you” simply doesn’t produce a Big Bang dramatic ending. If you have not conveyed your gratitude somewhere during the speech (and I don’t condone starting off with a thank you), I suggest ending the speech with that Big Bang, taking a pause, and then ending your time on the podium with a sincere thank you to the audience. As Croix Sather, a member of several clubs in Connecticut, said in the LinkedIn discussion: “If you have to choose between saying thank you or not, always say thank you (after a very long pause) with the sincerest and truest way you can.”

In recent years, Toastmasters International’s official stance on the “thank you” issue has shifted a bit. The old Communication and Leadership Program manual (now, called the Competent Communication manual) used to say this about speech conclusions:

Don’t end by saying “Thank you.” The audience should thank you for the information you’ve shared. Instead, just close with your prepared ending, nod at the Toastmaster of the meeting, and say, “Mr. (or Madam) Toastmaster” – then enjoy the applause!

The current version of the manual is more flexible on the matter, stating: “Some speakers say ‘thank you’ at the very end to signal to the audience that they are finished, but this is not necessary.”

Three years after I first wrote about the issue, my conclusion remains the same: Gratitude and good manners belong wherever people gather, and should especially be on display when you’re on the podium. Isn’t life better for everyone when we grab more – not fewer – opportunities to thank those who give us their valuable time and attention?

Margaret Page, DTM, is a member of Sunshine Toastmasters in Sechelt, Canada, and a Vancouver-based etiquette and protocol consultant. Reach her at www.etiquettepage.com.

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