Can you imagine a wedding reception without speeches? Nor can I. Let’s have a close look at the groom’s speech.
It is an opportunity to help the guests know a little more about either or both of you – preferably, in a witty and enjoyable manner. It will also surely offer a public demonstration of your affection and excitement. So there is a lot to get right (and wrong).
I’ve written a couple of speeches both as an individual and as a civil celebrant, so I hope these hints will be helpful.
It is vital that the speech is not too long. Ten minutes will be about right. It should focus on the bride – what she means to you, possibly how you met and maybe an anecdote that shows why you chose her. Crucially, it should be sincere. Not to say that there can’t be humour too (more on this later).
Incidentally, don’t hold back from saying “my wife and I”, if you wish.
Of course, you need to thank everyone who contributed to the wedding (not just financially!). So it should be the parents of the bride, the participants (bridesmaids, ushers, etc.) and the guests. Absent friends may be mentioned here. Without overdoing it, a bit about the best man could go in (preferably, including a story about something you both got up to in the murky past!).
Don’t rely on memory (especially on such a day), nor should you read out from a long script. Use notes or bullet-points, so you can make eye contact with your audience as much as possible.
However, when you talk about your new wife, say what attracted you, why you love her, relate an interesting/humorous episode. For this, you can address your remarks directly to her. And a compliment is unlikely to be taken amiss (your guests will love it too!).
Try and vary your delivery, so it is not monotonous.
However nervous you may be, slow down! Don’t mumble or gabble. Speak loudly and clearly. People will really want to hear what you have to say, so don’t frustrate or deprive them!
If you can start with a joke, then that is fine. However, ensure any joke you tell is funny – and that it is not crude or offensive. If you are hopeless at telling jokes, then it may be better to leave them out altogether.
If you are going for just one, then direct a gentle jest at your best man (NOT at your new in-laws, unless you are VERY sure that it is appropriate and that they will be OK with it! Definitely don’t get off on the wrong foot …).
I took a great risk at my wedding, because I chose to be quite rude about my new wife (but I did say some nice things too!). I got away with it (although, of course, I am still suffering the fall-out to this day!) because my comments were funny (no, really!), but it’s a dangerous game to play.
Once you’ve thanked everybody, told a story or two and possibly talked about your excitement at the prospect of your new life, stop while you’re ahead. Propose a toast to the bridesmaids and/or your wife and then pass the microphone to your best man.
- Don’t forget to thank your in-laws or whoever financed the affair. Thank your father-in-law for his speech (and for producing such a wonderful daughter). Thank everybody on behalf of your wife too. Make mention of guests from afar, or special guests, your in-laws and your own parents. Don’t thank caterers, florists etc. who will have been paid for their services. Try not to spend too long thanking people.
- Don’t read out long lists.
- Resist the temptation to get blind drunk before your speech!
- Check beforehand with your best man that there’s no clash or excessive overlap/repetition in what you are both going to say in your speeches.
Prepare thoroughly beforehand, remember the tips about delivery, and you will manage a wonderful speech that you will enjoy making and that your guests will love hearing.
Of course, if you want any further help, please speak to Michael.
For many people, the idea of death appeals more than the prospect of public-speaking!
The likelihood is that most people will be called upon to write and deliver a speech at least some time in their life. Possibly for a family event, like a wedding, or a business presentation. Discomfort (or worse) looms large, even if it’s only a question of presenting before a handful of people.
Only a few years ago, before I became a civil celebrant, I was terrified at speaking in front of a dozen business-people. That’s not an issue any more. In fact, I can sincerely claim to have brought the house down on two occasions with a wedding speech; I now willingly and confidently address crowds of a couple of hundred (I haven’t got to the 1000s stage, but that am sure that would be fine).
In this piece I am going to concentrate on celebration ceremonies. Content is another matter, but for now I am going to cover delivery.
- It is better to be brief than over-long
- If you can deliver humour successfully, do so; if not, keep those jokes to a minimum!
- Avoid too many “in-references” – at a wedding half the guests may not know anything about one of the newly-weds, so in-jokes can fall very flat – and exclude whole groups
- Start from a script (only very accomplished, experienced speakers can deliver off the cuff), and graduate to bullet-points on numbered 3″ x 5″ cards. Rehearse so that you can make your speech with only occasional reference to your notes. Eye contact is very important
- There may be a good sound system, but ensure you can be heard loudly and clearly – you can help that by not burying your head in your notes and by speaking more s-l-o-w-l-y than you might expect
- Avoid saying anything controversial, whether about the families present or about politics – the idea of the proceedings is to create a wonderful atmosphere, not to score points or secure cheap laughs!
- Use anecdotes, but ones that fit in and are relevant. Avoid meandering ‘shaggy dog’ stories that may lose your audience. Be very sure whether that embarrassing story about the bride will be well-received!
- I stress that delivery should be slower, rather than faster, and do not be afraid of a silence (for effect). Try not to address just one area of the room, but make everyone feel included. Smile – at least, at the beginning and end.
- If very nervous, try a few deep breaths before you start. Remember, the guests will be on your side, and willing you to do well
Remember that it is a privilege to be asked to give a speech, so be grateful. Remember your audience at all times.
Oh, and, however nervous you may be, save the alcohol for afterwards!
Public speaking really doesn’t even compare with death! Enjoy the occasion.
So your mind is on your approaching big day? The wedding ceremony is crucial (but you will be in safe hands with your civil celebrant).
However, once that part is over, what happens next?
Don’t fret! If you have hired a toastmaster, they will advise you. As should your (or the venue’s) Event Planner. However, you’ve arrived at my blog and I can offer you a guide to put your mind at ease.
You may form part of a receiving line to greet the guests. It will normally consist of the bride’s parents (the hosts), the groom’s parents, bride, groom and, if desired, attendants (in that order). (If it’s a smaller reception, it might just be you.)
This can take quite a time, and it may be preferable to dispense with this – PROVIDED that you (and, possibly, your parents) circulate during the meal. Remember, everybody will want to congratulate you!
At a sit-down reception, the bridal party occupy the top table. Traditionally, they should be (from left to right as viewed by the guests): chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom & bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother and best man.
There ought to be a table-plan and/or place-cards for guests. Obviously, ensure there are enough chairs available for all!
If it’s not too formal, or a buffet, you and your new spouse will circulate, as I’ve suggested, briefly thanking guests for coming. You return to the table for the cake-cutting, speeches and toasts.
Cutting the cake
The bride places her hand over the groom’s and together they cut the cake. (It may be worth cutting it in advance, if the icing is very hard!) Someone else will cut the cake up and distribute it to everybody. (You may want to send some pieces to absent friends, so reserve these.) You traditionally keep the top tier (for the christening of the first child).
Speeches and Toasts
Ideally, they will not be too long! Incidentally, I can offer some tips on presenting (please see my blog: https://vowsthatwow.co.uk/delivering-a-wedding-speech/) .
The bride’s father will toast the couple; the groom replies on behalf of himself and the bride (thanking the bride’s parents for the wedding, the guests for attending and for their presents and toasting the bridesmaids); the best man replies on behalf of the bridesmaids and reads out any messages from absent friends.
At the end
You normally leave first (announced by the best man).
Speech-writing – for whatever occasion – is likely to fill you with dread.
However, help is at hand!
I am pleased to say that I have persuaded Shirley Wootten to share her experiences with us.
Shirley is a copywriter and the founder of stress-free speeches, a business she set up to coach anyone worried about having to give a speech at a wedding (or any other social event).
She’s been involved in local theatre for 30 years – acting and directing – so she knows what stage fright feels like, and can find ways to improve a performance.
She has come up with a process that will smooth away most, if not all, of your worries in this area! Read on, and learn!
Taking the fear out of writing a speech
It can be daunting, to say the least, to come up with a speech to mark an occasion.
A couple of deep breaths at this point will work wonders. And now we’re going to break the task down into small steps.
Let’s assume that you’ve had plenty of warning. If you’re a top table guest at a wedding, you’ve probably been in the know for months. This is good, because the Most Important Advice is to give yourself time to write the speech. Begin at least a month before the big day.
Next, recognise that even world-famous writers tremble at the prospect of a blank sheet of paper. You’re in good company.
So let’s do something about that blank sheet. Whether you’re writing or typing, starting off with something silly often helps to break the fear. Just setting down, ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ will get you off the mark and make sure that the page isn’t blank any more. Then you can either continue in the same vein for a while – a whole paragraph expanding on the fact that you have nothing to say – or begin to list a few of the ideas you’d like to get across.
You’re on your way.
If you’re struggling to know what to say in your speech, or to organise your thoughts, a brainstorming session can be helpful and good fun to boot. It works best with pen and paper – or coloured pencils, crayons, anything that takes your fancy – rather than a keyboard and a screen. (But if you just wanted to launch in and start making a list of thoughts, that would work too.)
Get a large sheet of paper and put the words ‘My Speech’ in the middle of it. Then draw a line from those words a short way and write whatever comes into your head (if you draw a bubble round each word or phrase, that will stop all the words running into each other and will help you to read everything back afterwards). So, for example, you might write ‘thank yous’ and then, out from those words, a bubble for each of the people you’d like to thank, with a further reminder next to each name of the service they provided. Then go back to the centre, run another strand out from ‘My Speech’ and start a new topic.
And so it goes on, until you’ve covered everything or writer’s cramp has kicked in. You’ll probably surprise yourself with the number of ideas you’ve jotted down, but you can now start to put the main ones into some sort of basic structure, which is the start of the speech.
In no particular order – because you can decide on that later – take each topic you’ve identified during the brainstorm and write a short paragraph on it. If you find you’re writing more than one paragraph, keep going until you run out of things to say, then move on to the next topic. Don’t worry about the length of the speech, or being too fussy about grammar and spelling (in fact, you might not need to worry about that at all; if you’re the one reading it on the day, you can spell words any way you like, although punctuation will help you to remember to breathe, at the very least); at this stage it’s all about getting reasonably structured thoughts on paper, unhindered.
This stage may take several sittings, as you tackle a fresh topic each time, but that’s often the way it goes, so don’t be put off or worried if it never seems to end. You’ll get there.
When you’ve worked through all the ideas that your brainstorming session produced, clip together all the pages of your rough speech, or save them on your laptop/tablet, and ignore them for a few days. This is very important and means that when you read them over, you’ll be seeing them with fresh eyes. Inconsistencies will leap out at you and you can begin the editing process.
This is not meant to be scary. This is a fun part and means that you’ll have a lovely, polished speech with which to amaze (and amuse, if appropriate) your audience.
Begin by reading the speech to yourself out loud. Just hearing the words will highlight things that you might want to change completely, or that simply don’t sound quite right. As you read through, make notes on the pages as you go – a printed copy will be helpful here – but don’t make the changes yet; keep reading out loud, through to the end. In this way you’ll hear any repetitions and can begin to choose which bits, if any, to delete.
Now go back to the start of the document and work through it, making the changes you’ve identified. As the whole thing takes shape, you can decide which order to impose on your topics, by rearranging the paragraphs to suit your purpose.
And after that, put the edited speech away again for a day or so (remember, this is important; think of it as fermentation for an ultimately fizzing, fabulous speech) and repeat the process as often as you choose, until you’re satisfied with the end result.
This is your speech, of course, so you can decide what to say, what to include and what to leave out. Funny is usually acceptable to everyone, but you’ll be the best judge of your own talents as a stand-up artist, so include more or less humour, as you see fit. If you know your audience well, you might share a couple of family stories that you know they’ll all appreciate. If you don’t know them so well, you may want to keep the tone a little more formal. (Word or warning here; make sure the speech is about the guest(s) of honour, not about you. A couple of self-deprecating remarks as a personal introduction will work well, but then move on to the topic in hand.)
You might want to check that your speech doesn’t cover the same ground as those given by your fellow speakers, but beyond that, you can have free range of topics. Again, you will know what is and isn’t appropriate.
Enjoy the speechwriting experience. Be as creative as you like. Everyone will appreciate your hard work and you might unearth a hidden talent. Then the fun will really start…
Shirley would be very happy to hear from you if you have any concerns about speaking in public or putting words on paper.
Making a wedding speech (or any kind of speech, for that matter) has frequently been described as worse than death.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
As a professional presenter and public speaker, I want you to feel as confident about presenting yourself as I do when I am conducting a ceremony.
Whether it’s a business presentation or a Best Man speech at a wedding, it’s understandable that public speaking can be a major challenge for many people.
I want to offer you ten hints that can make that experience far less stressful and far more rewarding. They won’t necessarily solve all your issues about public speaking, but they will set you on the path to the confidence you need.
- Be brief, rather than wordy, and be relevant. Don’t go off on shaggy dog stories or sagas that mean nothing to most of the guests
- Humour is good (provided you have decent material and timing!). Ensure you are not controversial, rude, or obscene. Avoid religion, politics and personal insults, as a general rule
- Be clear in your thinking and delivery
- Practise reading your speech aloud beforehand (preferably to someone prepared to criticise you!). Become familiar with the finished article so that you don’t have to read every word
- Transfer your script in note form or (better) bullet point headings onto (numbered!) 5” x 3” cards
- Before you stand up, settle your nerves with a couple of deep breaths
- As you begin, look at your audience and smile (if you can!)
- Ensure you speak audibly and clearly and keep a check on the speed of your delivery. A microphone may be a blessing, or not. Be aware: speak into it, but avoid deafening everyone.
- Try and modulate your voice (and volume), so that it’s not monotonous and sleep-inducing
- Wherever possible, make eye contact with your audience. Hold your cue cards at about chin height (but not so near as to block the sound from your mouth!). (See the top picture.)
If you can take all this on board, you will be well on your way. There’s no substitute for good material, of course, but presenting it effectively can make all the difference.
A wedding speech is really not as daunting as it might seem. Put in the preparation and you can then aim to relax a bit. (Avoid alcohol, at least, until afterwards!) and do your best. Be assured also that you’ll be supported by the goodwill and forbearance of the guests.
You can do it!
You might even enjoy yourself …!