Four points to build an effective Change of Command speech

The importance of the Change of Command ceremony has not changed for good reason. The event is a physical and visual representation of squadron leadership transitioning from one officer to another. The ceremony itself is heavily dictated by custom and courtesies, including those official portions that are well defined through the local Protocol office and the unofficial portions that are the discretion of the Presiding Officer, the outgoing Commander, and you as the incoming Commander. The official answer for the primary reason for the ceremony is to honor and welcome you as the incoming Commander. Still, that answer should not be translated to “it’s all about you.” In reality, your activity as the incoming commander during the ceremony should be minimal and precise. Remember, you have the remainder of your tour to enjoy being a commander! As mentioned before, the ceremony is driven through customs and courtesies driving by Protocol, so much of the event will run itself (assuming you have an on-point project officer for the event). Your family and guests will be taken care of and led to their seats by the escorts, the script will include all of the events and transitions expected of the ceremony, and the narrator will give you a heads up of when it is time for your to stand and sit. Have faith that the outgoing commander and project officer have taken care of these details, and remember to do the same when it is your time to exit stage right. As the incoming commander, you should focus on one line of effort to shape and streamline your actions during the change of command ceremony: Thank You.

The idea may seem trite and overdone, but sticking to the simple theme of Thank You will keep your actions during the ceremony quick and to the point. Again, you will have the entirety of your tour to say what you want to multiple audiences, so the best thing you can do at the ceremony is graciously accepting the honor during your speech…and exit as quickly and professionally as possible. Here is an unwritten rule on the amount of time each speech should last during the ceremony: Group commander = 9 minutes, Outgoing commander = 6 minutes, Incoming commander = 3 minutes. The numbers themselves aren’t important, but rather the ratio of time given for each speaker (3:2:1). The incoming commander should have the least amount of time because they have the most time to talk later. To achieve this feat, shape your speech around these four “Thank You” points: family and guests of honor, new group and wing commander, your predecessor, and your new squadron you have been charged to lead.

  • Thank your family and guests of honor for attending the event and supporting your big day. If you intend on presenting any gifts to your guests of honor, deliver those gifts yourself. Do not let a proffer or escort perform the job for you.
  • Thank your new supervisor and chain of command for the leadership opportunity given to you.
  • Thank your predecessor for their accomplishments and you will work hard to raise the team to even greater heights.
  • Thank the project officer and squadron for putting together a professional event. Tell the squadron you look forward to joining the team and you will share more thoughts with them in the near future.

Sticking to these four Thank You points during your Change of Command ceremony will keep the audience engaged, respect their time, and set you up for follow-on Commander’s Call and immersion events. No need to come up with something creative or novel to say at the ceremony; you’ll need that energy throughout your command tour. By keeping your message simple and to the point, you will be able to enjoy your ceremony with minimal stress as you step into day one as Commander.