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Queen Elizabeth I addressing the troops at Tilbury
The correct response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome’
SpC 103—Introduction to Speech Communication—was a required course for my English-lit major. I thought it would be about giving speeches, like Toastmasters. I was young. What did I know?
What the course was “about” was never entirely clear—mostly, as I recall, the sins of Richard Nixon, who was at that time the President of the United States. The instructor did, however, teach a public-speaking unit from the textbook, and we spent a few weeks researching, composing, and presenting speeches. For my oratorical debut, I chose to defend Richard Nixon—I couldn’t stand the guy, but I liked my instructor even less. His name was Edgar, and he told us—as if he were doing us a big, juicy favor—that we could call him Edgar.
Apart from thoroughly discomfiting Edgar, I actually learned something useful about public speaking—several things, actually, but one bit of guidance stands out; it has served me well when talking to groups or interviewers. If Edgar and the textbook had been the only sources of this instruction, I probably would have disregarded it because it goes against common practice. But further research, experience, and my mom convinced me that it’s sound advice for speakers. Here it is:
Don’t say “Thank you.” In particular, don’t open or close with “Thank you.”
My mother raised me to say “Thank you” to my friends’ parents when leaving after having been their guest. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but by fourth grade I could be counted on to mumble “Thank you for the nice time, Mrs. Goldberg” after a sleepover at Judy’s. By fifth grade I could carry it off with a semblance of sincerity if not with gusto, à la Eddie Haskell.
Mom also trained me to say “Thank you” when receiving a gift, a compliment, or some form of help. But there is no reason, she explained, to say “Thank you” when giving gifts, compliments, et cetera. “When somebody says ‘Thank you’ to you,” Mom told me, “don’t say ‘Oh, thank you,’ as some people do, because it’s like you’re throwing the thanks back in their face… like you’re arguing with them or showing them up.” Mom called the behavior “ungracious” and compared it to the pseudo-polite comment “Oh, you shouldn’t have” when you receive a present. If I’d understood the vocabulary of bridge, she might have said “It’s like trumping their good manners.”
According to Edgar, the textbook, and other authorities, as a speaker or an interviewee you’re conferring your knowledge or wisdom upon your audience. It’s for the hosts to thank you and is as inappropriate for you to return their thanks as it would be to hand back their fees, if money is involved. Further, as an opener or closer, “Thank you” is just plain weak.
“Referred to as a haymaker, your closing statement should be a knockout punch that drives home the entire presentation,” writes communication expert Stephanie Scotti for Ragan.com. “The final blow reminds listeners of the core message that you want them to remember long after the presentation has ended.”
It’s true that closing with “Thank you” seems natural and certainly preferable to saying “The end” or “Okay, I’m done” or some other clunky word or phrase to signify that your speech has ended. If you don’t have a haymaker at hand, you can pause for a few seconds and then tell the audience you have a few minutes to answer questions.
When you’re being interviewed, the interviewer will take care of the opening and closing, probably by thanking you. Resist the temptation to thank him or her back. The correct response to “Thank you” is “You’re welcome.” If that seems abrupt, say “It’s a pleasure,” even if it’s not. At least that way it doesn’t turn into a courtesy contest, as if you’re trying to out-thank your thanker.
Next time you listen to a radio interview, notice how the interviewee responds to the host’s introductory expression of thanks. The often-heard reply “Thank you for having me” always makes me think of fourth grade and Judy Goldberg. A simple “You’re welcome” is, by contrast, elegant and well bred… and sufficient.
Okay, I’m done. The end.