An article written by Tony Winyard for the “Perfect Wedding” blog
Did you hear about the best man that made the bride’s mother cry during his speech? Unfortunately, they weren’t tears of laughter. Or the groom that spoke for 75 minutes during his speech, yes he spoke for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and he didn’t even notice that half the room were in the bar by the time he finished, ordering the free drinks the groom had laid on to escape the boredom.
As a DJ, Wedding Host & Master of Ceremonies, I have heard hundreds of speeches and have witnessed the good, the bad and the very, very ugly
Here are a dozen tips to ensure that you’re the cool person remembered for delivering a fantastic speech rather than the loser that put no effort in and told embarrassing stories!
1 Get Ready
Thousands of £££’s are spent on weddings; the dress, the food, the venue, etc. which is planned well in advance often in meticulous detail. Yet so many times the speeches are left to the last minute.
Include the speeches as part of the wedding preparation. Work on them early, review and refine them. The worst speeches I have heard have been from people who clearly haven’t given any thought to what they are going to say. They think they will just wing it on the day. Nine times out of ten this formula will fail. Most speeches at weddings are spoken by those who are not frequent and confident speakers, but everyone is capable of giving a good speech with some thought and a bit of practise. There are many places you can get help.
Join a local Toastmasters International group* (this is not the same as the guys in the red coats!), I have been a member for 4 years and the help, support and practise you get is invaluable. I have seen many guys join because they have to deliver a wedding speech.
There are also many good books available on delivering great wedding speeches, but unless you don’t care, do not just go to Google and copy and paste. There are certain jokes, phrases and quotes I have heard at so many weddings, and ok, I attend far more weddings than your average person, but you can guarantee that if you find a line on Google, that at least a few of the guests at your wedding will have heard the line before, and if they recognise one line they’ve heard before, it then puts doubt in peoples minds about whether any of your speech is authentic?
You want it to be your speech. Telling your story is always best. Write it yourself. Not a neighbour or a friend. It won’t have the same emotion to it, if someone else writes it. Most people that haven’t delivered a good speech vastly underestimate the importance of having emotion in it.
Practice in the function room itself, if at all possible.
2 Let’s put it all together
Don’t ramble on. Try this, start by writing the end of the speech and then work backwards. Even if you have no other notes, have your last sentence written down so you can finish strongly, have a great line to finish on.
If you are looking at ideas for content write about the past, the present, and hopes for the future. Tell interesting stories that don’t include risqué behaviour.
Also remember you don’t have to memorize it word for word.
There is nothing wrong with reading from a script, as long as you say it from the heart, and if you need to use notes, small index cards are far preferable to A4 sized paper.
Do not expect to be perfect. The guests will not expect you to be perfect and having ridiculous expectations of perfections burden you with even more pressure which is the last thing you need.
Always start the speech with something impactful. Don’t start by thanking the bridesmaids you can do that after your engaging opening to your speech.
Once you have your speech written out and are happy with it, practise it in front of a mirror and visualise yourself there at the wedding.
Record it on your phone and play it back when you’re in the car or out walking the dog. How does it sound? Is it monotone?
Record it over and over again until you’re happy with it.
Find places where you can speak softly for dramatic effect, or pause, or change the inflection in your voice. When you’re happy, perform it in front of one of your family members or friends and get feedback from them.
You may find once you have practised it a few times you only need bullet points and don’t have to read word for word.
4. How long has this been going on
The speech does not have to be long but longer than ‘thank you all for coming’.
The ideal time for a speech is five to seven minutes.
It’s better to have guests saying, “I wish that speech was longer” rather than “OMG when will he stop talking!”
5. Wide eyed and legless
Many people hold the mistaken belief that having a few drinks before the speech will calm nerves and improve the delivery. This is an absolute fallacy and is the opposite in the vast majority of cases. It usually just loosens inhibitions resulting in embarrassing stories.
Don’t talk about stag night shenanigans, bodily functions or anything that will offend Auntie Jean or Your gran. What may be funny to your close friends may well turn off some of the guests, especially any older guests.
Keep it Disney friendly and you will be on the right track. Humour is good but only if that is your style. Know your audience and what they would appreciate.
In jokes are best avoided
Going for comedy… and not getting it right (being unfunny, insulting, rude) -this is mainly best men, mistakingly thinking that what is funny amongst the lads or down the pub, will work during a speech.
Other things to avoid are whispering or shouting into the microphone. Getting speech rolls confused: At a wedding recently the Father of the Bride started telling stories he had heard second hand about the Groom. This is the best mans job, and it came over like he wanted to be one of the boys, very little was said about his daughter!
On the subject of the best man, by far the best tactic is sucking up to the bride and her clan by insisting just how lucky your friend is to have found such a perfect bride.
6. Smile like you mean it
Smile when you deliver your speech and look up at your audience. Find the many friendly faces in the crowd and make eye contact with them. This will give you the confidence you need. Again, have some pauses, many speakers go too fast.
Breathe. As you approach the microphone, take a slow breath to expand your stomach not your chest.
Slow breathing sends oxygen to the lungs and brain and promotes relaxation.
7. Don’t you worry about a thing
Don’t worry if you forget your lines or mess up.
Smile, and say something like.
“What I meant to say was” The guests are all there for the same reason, the bride and groom, and they don’t want you to fail. They are on your side. If you show your human they will warm to you and, “ooh”, “aah”, clap and cheer.
Give up the belief that you have to be perfect, give yourself permission to be human! Remember, look down to read, and always look up to speak, but don’t read and speak at the same time, because that is one sure way to lose the connection with the audience. Also, don’t speak too fast!
It does need to be heard all around the room so use a microphone if you need to and try and practise with it first so you know how to turn your head without losing sound. Hold the microphone directly in front of your mouth. NOT at your belly button. NOT at your chest and NOT at your chin, but directly in front of your mouth.
Did I mention you should hold the microphone directly in front of your mouth?
8. What a fool believes
Don’t drink too much alcohol before your speech. The myth that you’re funnier when you have had a drink really isn’t true.
You don’t want to be up there swaying and slurring your words.
Alcohol can make you lose your inhibitions and make you start telling inappropriate stories that can offend.
9. You’re so vain
If you’re giving a best mans speech remember this day is not about you.
There is nothing worse than a speech that is self-serving and ends up being look at me and how cool do I look.
Don’t use props unless it’s relevant to the bride and groom.
Using a slideshow of pictures to go with your speech can be a great idea, but be careful not to turn it into a corporate like presentation that inflicts death by PowerPoint on the unsuspecting guests.
10. Raise your glass
Don’t forget to have a full toasting glass with you to perform the toast.
The Master of ceremonies or Duty manager should have sorted this,
But it’s worth making a note at the top of your speech notes, as a reminder to check before you start. Never say, “fill your glasses” during your speech and then immediately follow it with making a toast to someone, because you’ve given absolutely no time to fill their glasses, therefore, it was a waste of time telling them to fill their glasses!
11. Too close
Do not walk in front of or place the microphone near or directly in front of the PA speakers. If you hear feedback, don’t get nervous, pause, and just hold the microphone directly in front of your mouth and the problem will subside.
12. Be sincere
It is extremely unfortunate that the majority of grooms are so nervous that when they say phrases such as “Doesn’t the bride look beautiful”, “Thank you to the mothers” and “thank you to auntie Carol for making the wedding cake” that they are often read out as if reading a shopping list, with no sincerity in the voice and not looking at the person they are speaking of. This usually is because of nerves, not because they meant to be insincere, but if they’d of realised how they were sounding to everyone listening, they would have made more of an effort to deliver them with some emotion and sincerity.
For all the grooms – at the start of your speech, look at your bride and be sincere when you speak about her. Don’t “read” your notes about her. Put your notes down and look at her as you say it. ALWAYS pause after saying “on behalf of my wife and I…” because the audience want to clap and cheer at that line. Don’t deny them the opportunity and also don’t deny yourself lots of cheering and clapping so early in your speech, as that will calm any nerves and boost your confidence.
Do the same for the mums. At way too many speeches the way the mums are thanked and given flowers is done with such a lack of sincerity.
Some grooms have experience with public speaking and don’t find it daunting, if that’s you then why not try walking around to each person as you go through the speech?
Aim to speak from the heart and let it flow.
Do a mirror check and acknowledge that you look great, …because you do!
You have done all the hard work, and remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
Finally – It’s more common nowadays for the bride and mothers to speak, which is a welcome break in traditions from all male speeches at weddings.
If using a microphone stand be aware/careful when turning your head because the microphone won’t turn with you!
Remember throughout the speech deep breaths and pause. By doing this, you look confident and in control and stay hydrated by taking a sip of water occasionally.
Finish with your best line. Don’t finish with thank you’s. By finishing with your best line you get rousing cheers and help nudge the atmosphere up a notch.
If you’d like any advice on writing or delivering speeches, do get in touch and I’d be more than happy to help you.
This is a day that will be remembered for a very long time, so make sure that your speech is also remembered for a very long time… for the right reasons!
Tony Winyard is a hugely experienced Wedding Host, Master of Ceremonies and wedding DJ, having performed over 2,000 weddings, and being a public speaking coach.
*Find out more about Toastmasters International at www.toastmasters.org.uk