Speeches – the basics

 Each livery company will have its own traditions and practices, and these notes only offer general guidance. For more, see note at foot of page.

It has been said that good speeches can make a good livery dinner, whilst bad ones can ruin the evening.

The most common criticism of a bad speech is that it was too long. This is not helped if there are too many speeches.

Typically speakers will be invited to speak for about 7-8 minutes, but even if they stick to their brief, allowing for introductions, applause, laughter etc, 10 minutes may be a better planning time. Hence three speeches are likely to last half an hour. If they are witty, well delivered, interesting or amusing, that is fine. If they are not (and sadly this may often be the case), at 10 o’clock at night, that can seem a long time!

So a good template for a livery dinner may be to limit the speeches to only three, and a logical progression could be as follows:

Welcome the guests (concluding with a toast to the Guests)

Response by the principal guest (concluding with a toast to the Company)

Reply by the Master

If the Lord Mayor is present, then it would be sensible to consider him/her as the principal guest (and main speaker), and not to invite another “guest speaker”.

[If the Master wishes to introduce the guests, of course that is his/her right, but a second speech by the master is best avoided]

Of course variations to this order are acceptable.

Specifically, at a Civic Dinner, the Master may propose a silent (ie without speech) civic toast (see Toasts), to which the LM will logically reply. But an alternative could be for the Civic toast to be proposed by the Master at the end of his speech.

All speakers need to be briefed, in writing. The main points to cover are what you wish him/her to say (light/serious/industry/topic related), for how long you wish them to speak, the allocution and toast, and most importantly TASTE! It is most often the high power “celebratory” guest speaker who gets this wrong, and one suspects that is because they were considered so experienced as not to need briefing! Remarks/jokes in doubtful or poor taste are considered very bad form at City dinners, but it is amazing how many men are unaware of this. Maybe they wrongly assume that livery dinners are all male affairs, akin to the rugby club.

This guidance letter may best come to such people from the Master, who has probably invited them in the first place, rather than from the Clerk.

Details about arrival and departure times, number of guests, running order of speeches etc may also be helpfully included.


AllocutionLadies & Gentlemen covers most people, and Debretts Correct Form advises to keep it as short as possible, without causing unnecessary offence. Paradoxically, the more you list, the more likely you are to leave someone out. Host always comes first, and the Clerk will give detailed wording. But Master, Wardens, My Lord Mayor, (Your Grace), Your Excellencies, My Lord(s), Mr Alderman or Aldermen, Mr Sheriff or Sheriffs, Ladies & Gentlemen should cover most, in that order.

If royalty are attending, seek advice.

The allocution need not be slavishly repeated again and again (in general no one speaker should find himself saying it more than once, including the beadle, who may revert simply to Ladies & Gentlemen when appropriate (which it usually is). The loyal toast should properly require NO introduction, just a gavel for silence.

More detail on the allocution at this note.


Advice on speeches:

Write it down, and then read it (but write words that flow naturally out of your mouth, and practice to ensure it is not obvious you are reading).

Keep it short (7-8 minutes is quite long enough, less may be better)

If welcoming guests, AVOID reciting lists and CVs at all costs.


There is much other advice on this subject, but this note is intended simply to cover the basics. Details on proposing the toasts is covered in the menu item Toasts - the detail.

The Livery Committee organise an annual half day course for wardens and future masters on the subject, usually in February. Details and online booking at the Briefings & Courses page.

To read the Lord Mayor’s speeches, click here.

Nigel R Pullman

© Nigel Pullman 2023