Wedding speeches. Some people who are asked to do one revel in it. But let’s face it, most of us dread it. The pressure! This is your friend’s/sister’s/daughter’s most important day of their lives yet, and your speech should put the icing on the cake of this perfect day, but if not executed right, it might just ruin it. Don’t fret. It’s not Britain’s Got Talent and you will not get voted out. Remember that the guests couldn’t be more on your side. All they want is to celebrate the couple, and your speech could help them do just that. As long as you avoid a couple of pitfalls…
Wedding speeches have changed a lot over the years. Instead of your standard written speech presented to the guests, some people involve celebrities to perform the speech for them via video link, others resort to singing their speech, and a few years ago a maid of honour’s rap speech went viral.
The tradition of speeches given by specific people is also no longer set in stone. The father of the bride, the groom and the best man are now joined or replaced by brides, chief bridesmaids, best women, mothers of the bride and mothers of the groom.
Whichever role you might be fulfilling at the wedding, you’ve been asked to give a speech, and that’s no mean feat. Here are five top tips on what not to do.
It’s not you, it’s them
Most of us love talking about ourselves, and oh, how tempting it is to fall into that trap when you prepare your speech. But remember the first rule – it’s about the couple, not about you. So when it’s your son or daughter who’s getting hitched, start by sharing your memories of them as a child. Don’t make this a moan about what a difficult toddler they were, instead share specific anecdotes that either make the guests laugh or make them go ‘aaawww’. Tell your guests about different times in your child’s life, ending with the time when they met their partner. Whatever you might think of their partner, for this once, put them on a pedestal. They are after all the person that your child has chosen to share their life with. Whatever you do, make sure your speech oozes with the love that you have for your child.
For the bride or groom, it’s all about love here. You can share with the guests how you met, why you were attracted to him/her when you knew they were the one and how they have changed your life. Don’t be afraid to declare your never-ending love for your new husband or wife. The crowd will love a little display of romance, deep down everyone does.
As the best man or woman, you have the trickiest task of getting it right, but when you do, you’re on to a real winner and the crowd will love you. Guests want a character sketch of the bride/groom that is enriched with humour. The trick is to lightly mock the groom/bride but to always do this with style and genuine affection. By all means, drag up some embarrassing anecdotes, but always ask yourself: ‘how would I feel if they would tell this about me?’. Always keep it light and positive.
The best man’s/woman’s speech should move smoothly from mockery to affection. Tell the crowd about the person’s husband/wife, how they met, how you knew this person meant a lot to them, and don’t forget to shower the husband/wife with compliments. You might like to end on a contemplative note, for example by imagining the happy couple in 50 years’ time.
Don’t lose any friends
Whichever relationship you hold with the couple, try not to offend either of them or any of the guests. So as a parent you might want to avoid telling stories about your child’s potty training and spotty teenage days, or anything else that will make your child’s toes curl in their beautiful new shoes.
Absolute no go’s for whoever is speaking are stories involving exes and those mentioning sex. Go easy on those anecdotes that mention alcohol and drugs, remember you might not embarrass the bride or groom, but you might shock those close to them. So, best to avoid mentioning the stag/hen do altogether…
Always use your common sense; it’s never funny to make racist jokes or comments about any of the families’ cultures or traditions. Leave out all profanities or jokes that are on the obscene or offensive side.
If one half of the couple has been a bit obsessed with the wedding preparations, don’t mention this. There’s a probability they might just be keeping it together now the day is finally here, and your ‘funny’ mention of the word bridezilla could be enough to send them into floods of tears, or worse, a full-blown tantrum.
Avoid the cheese
There’s nothing more difficult than trying to be funny. But if this doesn’t come naturally to you, try to avoid falling into the ‘Google speech’ trap. Cutting and pasting cheesy example wedding jokes (or whole speeches for the desperate) is never a good idea. So steer well clear of pretty awful one-liners such as “I’d like to start by congratulating (Name) on their excellent taste in speech givers”, or “Gosh, what an emotional day it’s been. Even the cake is in tiers”.
Guests will immediately spot the lack of authenticity. They might laugh out of politeness, but you will not make them cry with laughter. Don’t worry if you’re not a natural comedian. Stick with anecdotes, just tell the crowd what happened in your own, authentic way, and no doubt they’ll love it.
Throwing a cheesy game into the mix is also best avoided. You might be tempted to make the couple play a round of Mr & Mrs or The Kissing Game, but the likelihood is high that you’ll make them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed on their big day. Having said that, doing a sweepstake amongst the guests on how long the speeches are going to last, could actually be a fun way of breaking the ice.
Nobody likes the sound of your voice that much
This one is easy, keep it short – a wedding speech is not a eulogy! In the words of Richard Branson “When will people realise that a short speech is so much better than a long speech? Most of what anybody has to say of great note can fit on one side of the paper”. A simple rule here is to stick to 5 minutes, which equates to just over a one piece of paper. 10 minutes is the absolute max, after that, even the best speech givers will have lost the crowd.
Never wing it
Even if you’re a confident speaker and the best ad-libber around, never ever wing your wedding speech. Remember that this is the couple’s most important day of their lives so far, so you must respect this and do it justice by preparing the hell out of your speech.
So practise, practise, practise, and then practise some more. Read the words as many times as you can (around 200 times will make you say it without thinking) and practise delivering the speech so you get your intonation, body language and timings right. A good idea is to deliver the speech beforehand to someone who knows the couple and take their constructive criticism on board.
And whatever you do, don’t get drunk before your speech as you think it might help with your nerves and make you a better speaker. It won’t.