Weddings and public speaking go together. And stage-fright is often an (unwelcome) part of the process.
In fact, according to statistics, many people fear delivering a speech more than they fear death!
The likelihood is that you will be called upon to write and deliver a speech at least some time in your life. It may be for a business presentation or else for a family event. It could be in front of a handful of people or before a whole crowd. However, it is a skill that is well worth mastering.
Only a few years ago, I needed persuasion before I would even enter a room to network. After a while, I became more comfortable. Then I was persuaded to give a 10-15 minute presentation about my business in front of 18 people. That was a step too far! I was so nervous that I gestured wildly and shattered a glass of water. I became memorable, but not at all for the right reasons!
Now, I willingly and confidently address small crowds (I haven’t got to the 1000s stage, but I hope that may happen). Recently, I was put in front of 200 guests at the Savoy, and it wasn’t an issue. Indeed, as a civil celebrant, my success depends, at least in part, on my presentation skills.
I’d therefore like to pass on knowledge and tips that I have acquired, so that the potential ordeal of public speaking can become much more palatable.
I am going to concentrate here on celebratory-type ceremonies. Essentially, we will need to focus on content and delivery. Here are some thoughts as a starting-point.
- It is better to be brief than over-long – your audience may be hot, tired, hungry
- 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
- Use a script or, better still, numbered 3 x 5″ cards. (Only very accomplished, experienced speakers can deliver off the cuff). Rehearse so that you can deliver your speech with only occasional reference to your notes. Eye contact with your audience is very important, if you are to engage with them
- 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 s-l-o-w-l-y ( a lot slower than you may expect!)
- Avoid saying anything controversial, whether about personalities in the room or about politics – the idea of the proceedings is to create a wonderful atmosphere, not to score points!
- Use anecdotes, but ones that fit in and are relevant. Avoid meandering ‘shaggy dog’ stories that may lose your audience. If you are not good at crafting a good story, maybe you can get someone to help you
- Delivery should be slower, rather than faster, and do not be afraid of a silence, if appropriate. Try not to address one area of the room only, but make everyone feel included
If you need any more advice, then there are professional presenters out there who can help. And I would be happy to help too.
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!
Enjoy the occasion.