How to nail your wedding speeches – top tips
There aren’t many more things in life that strike fear into our hearts with such regularity than speaking in public. It’s just not everyone’s idea of a good time, and the fear is often heightened by the fact we need to talk about our feelings (ugh) in front of a room full of people.
Wedding speeches are a nerve-wracking part of the day for so many people, and it’s for those reasons that I totally understand why some folk dread that part of their wedding day. For some, it’s that one final hurdle of their wedding day they just need to get out of the way before they let their hair down and relax properly. And relax they do, usually with several pints of beer.
As you’d expect, I’ve witnessed many, many speeches at weddings over the years, ranging from pretty underwhelming to downright hilarious; several emotional rollercoasters and some that felt never-ending. With that in mind, I want to impart some of my experience on what works well, so you can be as knowledgeable as possible on the topic, before the inevitable *tap tap* on the mic gets even closer.
Without further ado, here’s 10 Top Tips for absolutely bloody nailing your wedding speeches – whether you’re delivering a speech or otherwise. And just for fun, I have included a *wedding speech bingo* at the end, with some of the usual things I witness during the speeches – 10 bonus points if you get one in a marquee this summer.
Before we start! If your reception venue doesn’t have a wedding coordinator or someone who will introduce proceedings, consider asking the Best Man or someone with a loud voice and some confidence to introduce the speakers. Make sure guests are back from the loo and everyone has a drink to toast with. In terms of who can give a speech, tradition dictates it’s the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man, but as we know that is old fart stuff, and the world has moved on since then. Anybody can give a speech.
1. When to do them? Before/after dinner – avoid during
Nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable to deliver the speeches at your wedding before the meal commences. If you’re one of my couples, you’ll be familiar with my advice that sometimes this is a good thing, particularly if your speakers are feeling really nervous about doing them. Too many times I’ve seen grooms not eat a scrap of their dinner because they’re worrying about their speech after the meal. Take the pressure off and do the speeches before din din, so everyone can relax and enjoy their meal, safe in the knowledge no more public speaking is required.
If you can, avoid doing your speeches during the meal, or during each course, as no-one wants to be photographed shovelling an asparagus wrapped in parma ham into their gob. I am not a fan of speeches during the meal as this is the prime time for us to capture you and your guests’ reactions, and if they’re concentrating on their food, we’re not going to come away with great results.
2. Sit/stand together during the speeches
The photos of you and your new husband/wife will be immeasurably improved if you’re in close proximity to one another during every speech. It makes it easier for me to capture you both reacting to something at the same time – and those reactions are not always the same, so it makes for a fun image. There have been times where a groom has been at one end of the room and the bride the other; needless to say they don’t make for top photos. It may sound obvious now, but try to be near one another during the speeches with a pleasant backdrop, so your photographer can get some interesting angles and some nice emotions.
3. If you have a videographer….
…be sure to tell them everyone who will be delivering a speech! Unlike photographers, videographers rely heavily on audio to produce their final product, and they need to be able to capture the sound as much as the visuals. Be sure to advise your videographer in advance so they can give each speaker a microphone, and try not to spring any surprises on them. Your wedding film will be all the better for it!
4. Use a microphone
A little like top tip number 3, if you can, please use a microphone for all of the speeches, particularly if you’re in a larger venue or have lots of guests. I know not everyone likes them very much, and 50% of speakers decide to do away with them as they deem them unnecessary, but I’d urge everyone to use a mic. Not all your guests are sat within 5 feet of the speaker, and not everyone has perfect hearing, so I find it really sad when I’m stood next to the furthest table in a venue and you can’t hear what’s being said. A cursory “Can everyone hear me?” only to plough on regardless as to whether people answer you or not, does not make for a good experience. Use a microphone, hold it up to your mouth as intended, and let the good folk at your wedding hear your crowning moment.
At worst, microphones also make for a handy prop if you’re feeling a bit nervous. Having a mic to hang onto can sometimes be a comfort if you’re feeling a little worried. But you needn’t be worried, because you’re going to be fine. As long as you follow tip number 5…
5. Don’t wing it
“It’s OK, I give lots of talks at work, I’ll be fine” is the red flag phrase that makes my heart sink. It doesn’t matter if you’re Barack Obama – have something written down, prepared, and easy to read. Speeches at weddings are different to ones you give at work; they are on one of the most important occasions in people’s lives, you only have one shot, and they’re remembered forever. Most people will remember weddings they’ve been to with killer speeches, and similarly they easily recall the bad ones too. Don’t make a rookie error; take time before the day to prepare a written speech, broken into chunks, and printed out so you can easily decipher it when the big moment comes. You won’t know how you’ll feel until you’re actually doing your speech, and it’s easy to forget things and people in the heat of the moment, so give yourself the best possible chance of delivering an absolute winner by being prepared.
6. Keep it clean!
An oft overlooked element of a wedding speech: keeping it clean. I’m no prude, but if there’s one thing that is bound to make people wince and you being cut out of your elderly relative’s will, is swearing unnecessarily in a speech. I’ve heard speeches with the ‘C’ word used fairly liberally. Really? On this day? On this most happy of occasions, with children and elderly loved ones present, you decide it’s an acceptable time to call your mate that word? Eek. People don’t forget these things. No-one comes away from the speeches saying “You know what really made that speech? The Best Man calling the Groom a c*nt.” Just no.
Keep your speeches as clean as you can, remember there are children usually present, and try not to slag people off. Save that for the pub on a Friday night.
7. Try to hit all the right notes
So you’ve prepared the speech, you’ve got your microphone, and the floor is yours. Everyone is looking to you to say all the right things to all the right people, being finely poised between charming, funny and sensitive all at the same time – hitting all the right notes. What a bloody minefield, eh?
I’m not about to tell you what needs addressing at every turn, but it’s customary for each speaker to cover some important topics. The happy couple (of course), the bridal party (or bridesmaids at least), parents, anyone who significantly helped with the wedding (whatever form that may take), and loved ones who are not able to be present on the day. Take the opportunity to thank people, and let them know the part they played in your happy day.
We all know the best man gets the best job in terms of his subject matter, usually providing tales of much hilarity about the groom, with embarrassing tales a-plenty. This is all good in the hood as long as you’re not outright slagging off the groom, something I’ve seen a few times. A good-natured dig is fine; a speech doesn’t need to poke fun at things such as their physical appearance. Who would want to hear that about themselves, least of all when celebrating their wedding day?
I always think a really good wedding speech, whether by a groom, bride, parent, best man or otherwise, has three important parts; the Thank Yous, the Funny Bit and the Sensitive Bit. You don’t need to be the world’s wittiest or most emotional person to cover these off. Refer briefly to relevant anecdotes, talk from the heart, and be sure to circle back on a positive note before the end of the speech, so you’re finishing on a high. Perfection. <cue applause>
8. Practice makes perfect
Much like point 5, don’t “wing it”, be sure to practice delivering your speech before the big event. If you’re not used to speaking in front of a lot of people, talk clearly and slowly – slower than usual. When we’re nervous we tend to jabber quickly, so slow your speech down if you think that sounds like you. Practice your speech to someone live before the day to get their take on it, and try to keep it under 10 minutes unless you want to be heckled by hangry guests.
Props are a popular addition for wedding speeches these days! Whether it’s a projector with photos, photos in envelopes on each table or something frightening the Best Man brings out from behind a curtain, you guys bloody love a prop.
I don’t mind them, as they can be quite fun to photograph with some great reactions, but be aware that they also distract your guests from what the speaker is doing/saying. Give someone a photo to look at, and they’re not looking at the speaker or the newly-married couple, nor are they usually listening to what’s being said. So just be aware if you’re planning on using props during a speech, that you’ll likely need to wrestle everyone’s attention back round to you before you wind up your toast.
and finally…. 10. You will be OK. Everyone is willing you on
I know giving a talk in front of a lot of people is an intimidating prospect. But remember this: everyone is there in a positive capacity, and they’re all willing you on to do well. They’re supporting you. They want you to succeed. Don’t get yourself worked up into a frenzy about things, just do your best and everyone will enjoy your speech, I’m sure.
Before you go, here’s my little list of Wedding Speech Bingo! Compiled with love, these are some of the things I hear frequently, whether I’m shooting a wedding or an actual guest. Don’t be offended if you heard some of these on your big day, you’re not alone.
The next wedding you go to, give yourself 10 points every time you witness one of these:
Dad talking with the microphone despite it being switched off
Microphone tap *bmf bmf* “Is this thing on?”
“Even the cake is in tiers!” – an oldie but a goodie
“Hang on, what does that say? Oh I’ve skipped a page”
The Groom referring to the Best Man as a habitual liar and not to be trusted
Guests on one table laughing inexplicably as they’re playing a drinking game along to the speeches
Your wedding photographer wiping away a tear at the soppy bits.