Making a speech can be a daunting affair for someone not used to public speaking especially at a wedding when you know you want to communicate something poignant yet funny. Even the experienced speaker can be nervous but today we want to share some tips that will make it easier for you to create a great wedding speech. Huge thanks to the performance coach Michael J MacMahon for these tips.
Photo by Kate McCarthy Photography
Nerves are inevitable when delivering a wedding speech … and helpful.
The adrenaline rush gives you the energy to give of your best; and keeps your brain ahead of your words. If you realise that, you’ll welcome the butterflies. Legendary actress Dame Judi Dench says that when she feels the fear coming, she thinks: “There it is! I can use it.” It’s like petrol, she adds: the fuel that drives the performance. Lots of recent research at US universities has provided scientific evidence to support what top performers already know.
Less is more in your wedding speech.
Most wedding speeches last between five and ten minutes. Wedding guests and professionals who work in the industry, when asked “what’s the biggest no-no”, often say: “over-long speeches.” One photographer told me the worst speech he’d ever heard lasted over an hour and was read from an iPad.
Strong start, strong finish.
You don’t need to learn your entire speech by heart. But if you can memorise your opening sentences and closing sentences, that fact will give you great confidence. And the start and the finish are what the audience remembers most.
Print your complete wedding speech
and have it there as a comfort blanket and if you’re the best man, maybe have it framed later and give it to the couple as a memento. However, try to avoid reading the whole thing, unless you are skilled at maintaining eye contact with the audience while doing it, which most people aren’t. Reading the whole speech is one sign of an unconfident speaker; and you’re not that, are you?
Photo by Kate McCarthy Photography
Cue cards (or prompt-cards) are the best aide-memoire
for most people anyway. One heading per 5” x 3” card; plenty of white space; bullet points for the ideas under the main heading. Just in case you should drop them (it’s been known!), punch a hole and thread a registry tag through them all, so as to keep them in order. Other options are mind-maps (but unless you’re already experienced with those, don’t start now) and, for the best man, props. The great thing about producing a series of props is that they are attention-grabbing and create a sense of suspense; they are visual of course; and they tell the story for you. If you can do it, the ideal is to memorise the start and finish and for the middle, use your cue-cards or props as reminders from which you improvise.
It’s absolutely fine, however, to read words written by a third party
and that’ll help your confidence. Good examples would be a piece of poetry or prose (preferably chosen by you; but there are also businesses that supply them custom-made). Also, for the best man, any messages from ‘absent friends and family’ (remember how the best man used to read telegrams?). For that kind of ‘external material’, it’s completely permissible to produce a piece of paper and read from it because those are somebody else’s words, therefore you want to get them 100% right, don’t you?
Use personal stories in your wedding speech!
Make the content of your speech original, which means avoiding recycled material. Jokes found online are the biggest no-no in my book, simply because anybody could find them. Therefore what appears both brand-new and acceptable when you’re writing the speech might be known by half the audience on the big day. It might also be offensive to some of them. Personal stories relating to the occasion and the couple are far better. And if you do tell jokes, play it safe! Wedding audiences are very mixed as regards attitudes to humour and I’ve observed some disasters on this count.
Communicate with the other speakers in advance
That way we won’t hear the same story twice. This is particularly important nowadays, when it’s not unusual to have two or more best men. There are often speeches too by the bride or the bride’s mother or the maid of honour, etc.
Test the room’s acoustics (and the PA system if available) beforehand.
It’s not always practical to arrange this; and anyway the room will sound different when full of guests. However, it’s worth doing if possible. It will boost your confidence greatly if you have been able to do a ‘dry run’ in the actual venue.
Watch your booze intake before speaking
(which is not easy at most British weddings, I know). One or two is fine for most people; but too many is a recipe for disaster, unless you have a particularly high alcohol tolerance! Reward yourself afterwards (maybe have a large glass of your favourite tipple in sight) … not beforehand.
Image by Natasha Cadman
Michael J MacMahon is a writer, coach and mentor. He specialises in helping speakers and other performers to give of their best.
The above tips contain material from Michael’s forthcoming book The Wedding Speech Handbook. It focuses especially on the mental aspects of preparing and giving a speech.