If you want to be a good after-dinner speaker, there is no short cut to learning the skills (or "how to get away with it", as they say in after-dinner circles), and in any case a speech that would go down well with one audience might fail utterly with another.
But one thing that can be taught is what not to do. Today, with this in mind, I am, as an aid to aspiring after-dinner speakers, bringing you a list of three score odd key phrases.
What is vital about these three score deadly phrases is that you should never never use any of them in an after dinner speech.
Here we go.
"Is the microphone on?"
"I think this must be the switch here..."
"Testing... test ing..."
"Can you all hear me at the back?"
"Right – let's get this show on the road!"
"May I just say what a great pleasure it is...?"
"Some of you may not have heard of me..."
"At the risk of boring you..."
"I am reminded in this context of the story of..."
"Was it not Herbert V Prochnow who said...?"
"In this context, I am reminded of the story of..."
"To be serious for a moment..."
"Which reminds me of the story of the golfer who went out to play one Sunday..."
"At the risk of offending any ladies present..."
"It would be invidious to single anyone out for special praise, but..."
"In this connection, one story that comes to mind is of..."
"I don't want to sound politically incorrect, but ..."
"An amusing incident which is said to have occurred to the late WE Gladstone ..."
"And they got to the fifth hole, and just as they were preparing to play their shots from the tee..."
"It's just about as difficult as trying to make eye contact with David Blunkett."
"It's about as difficult as getting the truth out of Jeffrey Archer."
"It's about as difficult as trying to get past the CEO's secretary."
"In this context, one is reminded forcefully, is one not, of..."
"Standing in front of you all tonight reminds me of the missionary who was being put in the cooking pot by a tribe of savage cannibals..."
"Not that there ever were any cannibals in Africa..."
"Not that I was referring to Africa in the first place..."
"At the risk of offending anyone of any race who might be present..."
"Although this is a social event, I feel I must just say a few words about the disappointing performance of the marketing division..."
"In this context, I am reminded of a completely irrelevant story..."
"So, anyway, a funeral procession came past the golf course, just as the man was about to hit his drive off the tee..."
"I once had quite an amusing experience in Milton Keynes, which I would like to share with you now."
"As the bishop said to the actress..."
"You are the weakest link."
"Somewhere to the left of Genghis Khan."
"Chance would be a fine thing."
"Not many people know that."
"And the golfer put his golf club down and took his cap off in respect as the funeral went past."
"British Rail sandwiches..."
"Mobile phones on the train..."
"White van man..."
"And as he took his cap off for the funeral, his opponent said, 'That's odd, I didn't know you were a religious person,' and the golfer replied, 'No, I'm not, but she was always a good wife to me...'"
"In this context, I am reminded that I have been droning on for 25 minutes now, and it is time I sat down."
"First, however, may I just say this?"Reuse content