I am a member of a Toastmaster club in the Czech republic where people work on their public speaking skills. It is a usual to open a speech by

Dear fellow Toastmasters, dear guests,...

It is a direct, word-by-word translation of a typical opening in Czech. A friend who is a native English speaker noticed that word Dear should be used only in letters, in written form. It should not be used for the opening of a speech, but one should rather use:

Ladies and gentlemen,...

What are the rules for an opening of a speech? Is "dear guests" in a speech English or Czenglish?

  • It sounds a bit florid/Dickensian to me, but if that's the impression you want to convey, there's nothing to stop you. I don't know about Americans, but I'd have thought the average British function wouldn't want to use a toastmaster who didn't have reasonable command of English. Oct 24, 2012 at 21:36
  • Check out the Etiquette site and support. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/29783/…
    – Kris
    Oct 25, 2012 at 4:13
  • Unless everyone around is an antelope.
    – Kris
    Oct 25, 2012 at 11:33

5 Answers 5


In the U.S., the word Dear is rarely used when addressing a general audience. It might be used in a religious context (via a “Dear Friends in Christ” formula) or at a family gathering.

“Ladies and gentlemen” is acceptable at the beginning of a speech, but is nowadays uncommon. The usual opening of a Toastmasters speech in the U.S. is along the lines of “Madam (or Mister) Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests”. The form “Fellow Toastmasters, dear Guests” apparently is used in Germany by some people.

  • 2
    So in essence strangers, like Ladies and Gentlemen are not dear to us. Just our fellow brethren in whatever are.
    – SF.
    Oct 24, 2012 at 21:46
  • 1
    @SF: Not necessarily. We may deem the term dear as unnecessary or out-of-place in certain contexts; nevertheless, we can still feel fondness toward, or appreciation for, the audience. Moreover, some may use the term dear merely out of custom, while masking resentment or hostility underneath. Oftentimes such greetings are worded more according to custom than as a true reflection of how the speaker feels at that moment.
    – J.R.
    Oct 24, 2012 at 23:03

Dear guests would be a very strange way to open a speech. Unlike the salutation of a letter, dear in speech means literally that the people addressed are dear to you. So somebody making a speech at his own birthday party might start My dear friends, because presumably everybody there is a friend, and won't be offended to be called a dear friend. But a toastmaster isn't usually expected to find guests endearing.

In my experience, a speech is opened with whatever formal salutation is appropriate for members of the audience, whether that is Your Majesty, my lords, ladies and gentlemen or Fellow members of the Froth-Blowers' Club.


The British authority on such matters is Debrett’s. Their advice on the preamble to a formal speech is given here. The word Dear is never used on such occasions. On informal occasions you can do as you please, provided you don't offend any of the other guests.

  • ‘My dear People,’ began Bilbo, rising in his place. [. . .] ‘My dear Bagginses and Boffins,’ he began again; ‘and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots.’
    – tchrist
    Jan 2, 2013 at 1:00

Personally I dislike the term dear, even though I use it in emails. It is becoming less used in correspondence in favor of personal address. In public speaking it is still quite common when there is any relationship, e.g. constituents of political representative, members of a club, etc. I haven't heard it being used at work during speeches or in training by external course providers. Unless you have some real ties to the audience, it can come off as being too familiar.


"Dear" when addressing an audience, implies a degree of personal or relational bonding which is closer to far closer than would be found amongst the general public or members of a workplace or interest group.

It may be used amongst old friends of long acquaintance - but even then would be somewhat formally-informal.

It could be used almost without notice when addressing friends of the deceased at a funeral (even by a speaker who was not one of the group), among people joined in an emotional cause and similar. Possibly used in a 'trade union' type context, sit-in, protest rally and similar where people are joined in a common cause. eg a "Occupy Wall Street" or similar speaker may address the protestors with "Dear friends ..." even if they were all strangers. Emphasises the close personal relationship or common-cause aspect of the occasion.

However, even where it was usable, omitting it would not be noticed. Using eg "Dear friends ..." seeks to add emphasis to the closeness of relationship, but omitting it and saying eg "Friends ..." in no way suggests that the relationship is less than close - so not using "Dear" is by far the safer option.

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