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.