In the past fortnight I have attended the wedding celebrations of two wonderful friends. I have also been finalising artwork for a flyer promoting my services to support those giving speeches at weddings. So I thought it would be timely to write a post about wedding speeches.
Traditionally the groom, the best man, the father of the bride and the maid/matron of honour give the speeches, although nowadays people depart from tradition and have a variety of speakers including guests. A lot of thought, money, time and effort goes into planning the perfect wedding to ensure that everything goes smoothly on the day, and just as much care should be taken with the speeches which add great insight to the newlyweds and interest to the proceedings. Speeches can be sentimental, funny and nostalgic and often a combination of all three is the best way to entertain and enlighten guests.
There is a lot of information on the internet about how to create the perfect wedding speech and toast; in fact there are entire scripts available for you to adapt and use (and I do know at least one father of the bride who used this option). But often writing the speech is not the problem. Given that 75% of the population get nervous about speaking in public it stands to reason that there might be some angst in the lead up to the wedding about actually delivering the speech.
If you’ve been given the honourable task of giving a speech at a wedding, it is important to get it right so here are some tips:
Don’t rely on inspiration on the day; it is crucial to use as much time as you have to start thinking about it and planning in advance. Think about the couple and your relationship with them, consider some relevant stories that you might include then select just one or two anecdotes - stories are one of the best ways to engage an audience but only if they can be told quickly and simply so don’t be tempted to include a story that takes ten minutes to set up.
As part of your speech, you might want to reflect on the significance of occasion and the meaning of marriage – a bit of sentimentally doesn’t go astray at a wedding. Remember to mention anyone who you are required to thank and ensure you don’t miss anyone out. It may seem obvious but you need to avoid talking about ex-partners of the newlyweds, avoid embarrassing, boring stories that most of the audience won’t relate to and avoid any expletives, however mild you might think they are.
Think of your speech as a story with three parts – a beginning, a middle and an ending. Whilst your talk should come from the heart and be unique and original, it can sometimes be helpful to incorporate a famous quote that emphasises your point and this is a useful technique to use in your conclusion. People remember the last thing they hear so carefully consider your ending; save your best gag for last and end on a laugh or say something sentimental that leaves them with tears in their eyes. Whatever you do, make sure it has a clear ending – there’s nothing worse than waiting for a punch line that never…
Humour (or not)
Laughter is a great way to relax you and your audience so start your speech off with some appropriate humour if this feels right for you. Appropriate is the key word here – what you and your mates might think is funny when you’re down at the pub on a Friday night is unlikely to be suitable at a wedding. Remember who your audience is and before including anything, ask the question - would your grandmother find it funny? And if humour doesn’t feel authentic for you, give it a miss completely and instead make it heartfelt and true to you.
Keep your speech short and concise, no more than 5-7 minutes. The wedding guests aren’t there to hear you ramble on for 20 minutes - your part is important but you’re not the main event! Make sure you practice it out loud to get an idea of how long it is likely to run and enlist someone at your table to be your timekeeper if need be. Remember the golden rule of entertainment - always leave ‘em wanting more.
On the day
If you’re like most people, there’s a good chance that you’ll be nervous. But try not to let it impact on your day. Trust in your preparation (which will have included practicing until you’re sick of it!) and the fact that everyone will want you to succeed. And regardless of how good an idea it might seem at the time, whatever you do, don’t overindulge in alcohol before giving your speech. You have been given an important responsibility on a special occasion so stick to a maximum of two drinks and enjoy a celebratory drink when it’s over.
When you’re ready to deliver the speech stand tall, take a deep breath and make eye contact with the people around you who are eager for you to do well. Focusing on your audience and thinking only about them helps you to stop worrying about how you’re coming across.
With this kind of speech the wedding guests don’t expect you to memorise the entire speech although to ease your nerves and get off to a great start I would suggest aiming to memorise the first couple of sentences if possible as well as the ending. Using notecards with bullet points will help you to stay on track and this will ensure a more natural delivery than reading it.
Keep your head up, smile and speak slowly and clearly with pauses where appropriate (especially when waiting for laughter to subside). If it is going well, don’t be tempted to ad lib as this can have the effect of losing the crowd and it can be quite difficult to get back on track. Having said that, embrace any interruptions, especially funny ones which can add another memorable element to your speech.
Careful thought and proper preparation will ensure your speech is a hit with both the newlyweds and their guests. Overall it is important that you enjoy the experience knowing that you’re delivering a personal message on the special day of someone you love. A short, sweet and sincere speech that is spoken with purpose and passion from beginning to end is certain to be memorable for all the right reasons.
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.
Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_