I’ve listened to, teared up during or laughed at and enjoyed many speeches at weddings so far, but also cringed during a few. Some were great and funny, some inappropriate but still funny and some that were just very dull and difficult to pay attention to for the guests as well as for myself.
It’s a nerve wrecking experience for the person who has to stand up in front of a lot of friends, family and strangers so here is a bit of advice for your speech and hopefully to settle your nerves as well. From writing the speeches to pencilling them into the day, I think this post will give you some useful advice.
When would it be best to plan the speeches for?
My advice is to plan them before the meal so the tables look nice in photographs, but it would be advisable to have something available before the meal for your hungrier guests to nibble on or they’ll fidget and won’t pay much attention during the speeches. Especially if you’re running a bit late. It’s also a great way of keeping your guests occupied during the first part of the reception, before they have to sit down.
Why not in between the courses? Remember your guests might need a loo break or want to go to the bar or nurse their baby and there might be many other reasons why you’ll have a lot of moving around and disturbances during the speeches. It’s difficult enough giving the speech let alone if you’re nervous and feel like no one is paying attention.
That’s not the only reason though. Bear in mind the staff will have to take away the plates whilst pouring the champagne and preparing the next part of the meal to go out which raises 101 other issues and might delay the speeches even more than if you had them as one block at the start or end of the meal. Not to mention by the time you get to the second speech before dessert, most of your guests will be out of champagne already. Also, your videographers, photographers and event planner (others as well probably) will have been on their feet constantly running around with heavy equipment strapped to them to capture your day and trying not to miss any important moments. This will be their first and pretty much the only chance for a break and to eat all day. If you put your speeches between courses they’ll be running around stressed to make sure they won’t miss the start of a speech or even worse sat in the corner of the room standing up throughout the meal waiting for the speeches to start and without a break on what is often over a 12h day for them. Would you be on top form if you’ve had a long day with no break?
At the end of the speeches? This is my second favourite option By this point people are fed and happy so they’re be a more settled crowd and a bit easier to please. The champagne can be poured while the plates are collected and this is a good time for people to pop out if they need to. The downside to this is the tables won’t be looking all that lovely by this point or that they’ve been sitting down for too long and start to fidget. (people fidget a lot if they’re waiting too long or they’ve been constrained to one spot for too long, pretty much any excuse to fidget so you have to get them at the right time)
Where to stand is a bit of a strange one but I have encountered confusion about this. In some cases it resulted in the father of the bride or best man covering the reactions of the groom (which are obviously the main interest for the photos at this stage) by standing in front of the table. If you can stand up at your own table then that’s great. If you have a PA system and have to go to a specific spot great. However if you have to leave your seat to go to the front to deliver this speech, make sure you either stand in front of your original seat leaving everyone visible or if you have to go to the front, do check before you start that you’re not directly in front of anyone. A couple of steps to the side would do. You can always check for advice with the photographer on the day where they would suggest would be best to stand for this group of images and I strongly advise you do if you’re worried about it.
How to write it
This is where a lot of people struggle and there are a million questions and a lot of confusion when you start. Someone said it in a speech recently and I thought it’s a great summary of what a speech should be. David at Ben and Priya’s wedding started off by saying “I hope my speech is in many ways like a mini skirt. What I mean by this is that it’s long enough to cover all of the essentials, but short enough to keep you interested” and it’s true: keep it short and sweet. The best of public speakers will tell you a speech doesn’t need to last more than 10-15min. Sure there’s a lot to say and many embarrassing stories to pass on if you’re the best man, but why not make a joke of it by narrowing it to a couple of stories which you find funniest and break the ice with the rest of the guests by saying other tales available at the bar for a pint? (I loved that approach)
Jokes are fine as well as funny stories and it does depend on the group it’s being delivered to. Bear in mind that you might get in trouble for inappropriate jokes so seek advice from someone who knows the crowd you’ll be in front of or might know what honestly can go beyond a joke and upset one of the wedding party.
Do you want a funny or touching speech but you’re not that great at writing? Cheat. Yes, I’m advising you to cheat if you’re not that great with putting in words what and how you feel. Maybe it’s not cheating…outsourcing or seeking a professional for advice is probably better said. Get in touch with a professional writer. Websites like Peopleperhour or E-Lance have a lot of creative writers available willing to do small jobs like proof reading or writing a speech for very little. You can write down what you’re thinking of saying and they’ll arrange it into a captivating speech. They might even be able to advise you on length and provide some feedback on which stories would be best to keep if you’re trying to keep the whole thing secret so can’t turn to friends and family.
The point of these speeches initially was to toast and some have forgotten this. I’ve seen an hour long speech with no toasts or thank you said whatsoever. That’s what the champagne is for after all. Add a couple of toasts in your speech. To good health, love and happiness, to everyone who is there to celebrate this day, to everyone who made this day possible, to your new son and beautiful daughter, to those who can’t witness the day but are not forgotten, to the years to come and many more. It’s great fun to raise that glasses and toast plus they’re something the couples always love to have as photos of the day reminding them of the merriment and joy of the day.
(A bit to the side of the point, but do you know why it’s called a toast and what it’s for? I’ve been told before and later saw it on a TV Show that it’s a toast because the Romans used to put a piece of spiced toast in their cups. More importantly a toast is a ritual in which a drink is taken as an expression of honour or goodwill whereas The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!'” so it makes sense that on this day you put a wish to the universe or gods to those you cherish)
It’s traditional to say thank you to the parents for helping you on your way obviously but the bridesmaids, groomsmen and any others that have contributed to the day. Generally it is the best man or the groom who thanks the bridesmaids. The groom usually gives thanks to the groomsmen, mentions how lovely the bridesmaids look and at this point either say thank you for her being on time or makes fun of them failing to do their most important job of the day. It’s a good idea to do a quick thank you to friends or family members who have made something for the wedding or brought something/helped you on your journey/came from a different continent for you and a quick thank you to those who are working hard on the day to make it memorable (i.e. venue staff for making sure it looked as you wanted and ensuring it went off without any issues, the kitchen for the lovely food, the videographers for working so hard to capture the day) but you don’t have to be too specific or in detail. I guarantee they’ll get a second wind and be very touched by your consideration.
I suggest running through your speech, reading it out at the same rhythm you plan on delivering it. Even record yourself (a smart phone will do) so you can look over and hear how you will sound to an audience. It’s the fastest way to improve the speech and realising how long it will be. You can also see if you have any ticks you want to avoid or where you get a bit lost (the notorious aaaaaaaaa between words or sentences) so you can practice on that part more. If you practice the speech before the day and maybe one last run through on the day to calm the nerves, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable on the day. It also helps with the next point.
The only tone, monotone
I used to have a lecturer at Uni that explained every lesson in such a dull way that half the class would fall asleep during it. He used to suddenly whack the lights on part way through the lesson and every time he did, you’d hear someone fall off the chair, startled. He taught in such a monotone voice with one sentence blending into another, it was practically impossible to maintain focus or interest for the whole time. If you’re delivering the whole speech in a monotone voice, you might have a few people falling off the chairs too. It might be because you’re nervous or haven’t seen the speech since you wrote it weeks ago or many other reasons. This is why I suggest practicing or having a test run, preferably with a recording or a group of friends listening so you can get feedback and avoid sounding dull or nervous.
How to deliver the speech
Cue cards not letters. Practice the speech beforehand and reading it a few times should give you a more natural way of delivering the speech. You should have the knowledge and confidence from practicing earlier so cue cards would be enough. They’ll result in a more natural delivery than reading it out like a letter as well as offering a chance not to have every single photo of you with your head down in a bunch of A4 pieces of paper looking like you’re giving one of your first book reports. If you get a bit nervous and lost you’ll always have the cards to put you back on track. Looking down at your speech all the time just doesn’t look right, does it?
If you’ve got a presentation accompanying your speech and this requires a screen, make sure you test the system before your time for the presentation so you know its all working or don’t get caught off guard in front of everyone when you should be giving your speech. If it does fail you can either delay your speech at the end of dinner (if the speeches are arranged at the start of course), switch the speech around with the next person down if that’s not an option to buy you some time to fix it. I wouldn’t advise making everyone wait and stare at you while you’re trying to fix the issue. You’ll feel very pressured and stressed by the time the speech can be delivered. Your other option if you couldn’t sort out the speech by the time you need to deliver it, go ahead and make the speech without the display. You can always make a joke of the failure and drop it in on the fly here and there. Key point: Don’t panic and don’t hold up the day!
If your speech features a special surprise like a photobook of photos from the stag do or has any surprise of any kind, track down the photographer beforehand! If it’s a physical gift, they definitely, without a doubt, want to take a photo of it. If it’s just a surprise say you have a phone call with someone from a different country who couldn’t be there or any other surprise at all, give the photographer a heads up so they can either photograph it beforehand or be ready for the expressions and know where to aim in anticipation of reactions.
These are just a few tips and tricks for writing a good speech, but if you’d like more personal advice feel free to get in touch.