The wedding speech... it’s a key part of the wedding celebration. Done well, the wedding speech can be a big highlight but done badly it can be remembered for all the wrong reasons – we’ve all got ‘that’ speech memory that still makes us feel slightly uneasy to think about or the one that was so long/dull/all of the above that we zoned out early doors.
So what are the key ingredients of a top rated speech? What are the dos and don’ts of what to include and the etiquette low down?
Who should speak?
First things first, who should speak at a wedding? Now I’m not a big fan of following the rules when it comes to most things wedding but I should cover the ‘traditional’ speech set up which goes something like this: Father of the Bride, Groom and then the Best Man.
First up is the Father of the Bride and it normally starts with a welcome followed by a piece about your beautiful daughter; your new son-in-law (a formal welcome into the family); an acknowledgment of the Groom’s family and finished off with some form of parting wisdom and the toast. Then to the Groom. Boiled down to the basics, the Groom’s speech is about 2 things: saying thank you (to practically everyone) and saying something really rather lovely about your Bride. In terms of thanks, the Groom traditionally begins with the Father of the Bride (for the speech he’s just made). He then goes on to thank literally everyone else – the guests for coming, the bride’s parents, his parents, the best man, anyone else involved in helping with the wedding planning. In fact, the Groom’s speech is arguably the easiest – by the time you’ve said all the thanks, there is little room for too much more! The whole piece is typically ended with a toast to the Bridesmaids. And, last but not least, the Best Man. I think this is, hands down, the toughest gig. You’re last to go, which means two things: people have started to get twitchy and they’ve also had chance to drink ever so slightly more meaning inhibitions and temptation to heckle increase! You are also kind of expected to be funny – for me the Best Man is the comedian of the trio, typically at the Groom’s expense. About the only serious part of the speech is normally the reference to the Bride!
Now I’ve covered the tradition I’ll put this out there - you don’t have to stick to this line up. The world is changing and this includes the world of weddings! People are more willing to break the rules and do what works for them. Perhaps you’re a Bride who wants a chance to speak? Perhaps the standard line up doesn’t make sense to you? Perhaps the Father of the Bride is absent or, in the case of one wedding I’ve witnessed, crowd shy (so the Mother of the Bride stood up and delivered a very excellent speech instead). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to tradition (and something quite lovely about it) but if it doesn’t work for you, scrap it!
Regardless of who you decide will or will not speak, there is one fact remaining, it is a lot of pressure. So how do you deliver something that will be remembered for all the right reasons? I’m not here (or qualified) to give public speaking advice but I do have some experience of what does (and doesn’t) go down well as part of the wedding speech. So here goes…
Leave them wanting more
Have you been to a wedding where your table places a bet on the length of the speeches? Have you ever played ‘wedding speech bingo’ – having to take a sip of drink each time your chosen word is used? There was one reason that people invented these games… to make things more interesting. The worst speeches are those that drag on and on and on and on… I’ve witnessed a fair few in my time and one fact remains. No matter how funny/good you are at public speaking or how many interesting things you have to say, your guests have a maximum concentration span. For me the best speeches are those that leave me wanting more – think about your timing. More than 10 minutes and I would rethink.
Don’t Worry About Notes
Should you use notes or not? Here I think do whatever makes you feel comfortable. On such an emotionally charged day, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a few notes or prompts to help you stay on track. The only time I’ve seen it go wrong is where the speech is literally read line by line from a script without as much as a causal glance at the audience. Aside from this, I’ve seen many an excellent speech delivered with notes.
Whilst we are on the topic of notes I think I should also cover props and whether they go down well. In my opinion, it depends on who is delivering the speech. For people like the Father of the Bride and the Groom, the speech should be a mixture of humour and sentiment with the bias towards the latter. I personally feel that props don’t work as well in this context (they are especially tricky for a Groom to include given everyone he has to fit in to thank!). I have seen props work well as part of a Best Man’s speech – probably because it is meant to be funny and props lend themselves to a gag. A recent speech I saw with props, which worked well, was one with three Best Men. Having more than one Best Man is increasingly common and how to handle the speeches in these cases can be tricky. If everyone speaks, that is a lot of added time but how do you single out only one? In this case the trio decided on a quiz show set up of spin the wheel. The Groom had to spin the wheel and, depending on the number the wheel landed on, they each took it in turn to read out a (slightly) embarrassing story. It was fun, entertaining, and gave everyone a chance to be involved.
Keeping Nerves At Bay
Let’s face it we were not all born to speak in front of an audience and even the more experienced are likely to feel nervous on such an occasion. If you know you have people to speak who are less comfortable, consider mixing up the order of things. Have them speak before the meal for example. It’s more than acceptable to do this if it means that your Dad can actually enjoy his dinner! In fact it also breaks things up a little bit for the guests. It also minimises the risk of too much Dutch courage being consumed… I’ve seen too many speeches go wrong where the speaker has tried to calm nerves with too much booze!
Delivering a speech can feel like a huge pressure but it is also a big honour and the advantage of delivering a wedding speech is that the guests are a friendly bunch and you are likely to know a portion of the crowd! It’s happy occasion, people want you to do well, they are interested in what you have to say and, failing all of the above, they have likely had one or two glasses so they will probably mind less anyhow!
Image credit and thanks to Joe Short