It’s been said that a successful wedding speech should make the guests laugh and cry in equal measure, which is what makes the best ones so powerful. It also explains why more than half of wedding goers cite the speeches as the most memorable part of the day and 9 out of 10 people find themselves talking about the speeches long after the bride and groom have headed off on their honeymoon.
It’s not surprising, then, that those members of the wedding party finding themselves with a speech to prepare might feel more than a little bit nervous about the whole thing. Furthermore, Bride Magazine reported that a recent search for Britain's best wedding speech threw up some interesting statistics with 40% of newlyweds admitting that the content of speeches was a cause for concern on their wedding day with 1 in 10 confessing to handing out rules to speech-givers. A further 5% demanded to hear all speeches before the day!
So, if you’re about to embark on writing a wedding speech for a member of your family or a friend, let’s look at some of the things you can do to make sure the guests at the wedding are talking about it afterwards for all the right reasons.
How to get started outlining your wedding speech
Start writing your wedding speech by getting a few notes down on paper – this is only your first draft, no one ever needs to see it.
Jot down what this person means to you. What is it you love about them and what do you wish for them in the future? While it may feel a bit strange at first, it’s connecting with these deeper thoughts and feelings and opening yourself up to being authentic and honest that will bring out your raw emotion, and in turn genuinely move your audience. Put simply, it’s what gets the tears and laughter flowing. It takes courage to go deep, but it pays off. Read our tips on how to become a more courageous communicator.
You offer a unique insight into your friend or loved one’s life and what has brought them to where they are today. Whether this is funny, thoughtful or emotional, it is this insight that adds the ‘spice’ to your speech and makes it special. We talk about the importance of ‘spice’ in the recipe for writing a perfect speech.
Remember, you were chosen because of the special part you play in the bride or groom’s life. The main thing is to make it special for all the right reasons.
What should you include in a wedding speech?
Be careful when you’re pulling together your speech that you make it inclusive for everyone in the room, whether they’re Great Aunt Margaret who the groom only sees once a year at Christmas, friends from way back when, or work colleagues who might have only been around for a few years. Telling very specific stories about things that happened at university for example could risk a rowdy response from one corner of the room while everyone else is in danger of feeling alienated and left in the dark.
Instead put the feelers out for stories and anecdotes from family and friends that have been around during different periods of the bride or groom’s life, adding them to your own. The next important stage is to look for patterns in the stories and try to weave them together to make it into one succinct narrative. That is how you will get the entire room engaged and feeling included.
Find out what they were like as a child, for example, and see if you can find instances where those features or quirks have reappeared later in life. After all, we don’t change that much – many features of our personality are set in childhood and can be seen influencing everything we do. Use this as the core of the tale you choose to tell and this weaving of traits from childhood to adulthood is ripe for comedic observations – so this is a particularly good approach if the onus is on you to get the laughs.
We’ll look at some specifics depending on the role you’re playing, but never stray away from the most important goal of the speech: to make the bride and groom’s special day even more special. Check back in on this regularly throughout the process of preparing your speech. Don’t get carried away looking for comedy gold at the expense of your loved one’s pride.
If in doubt, share your proposed speech with a trusted friend prior to the wedding day to get a second opinion on its appropriateness.
Tips for the father of the bride
Your job is to welcome everyone and thank them for joining the celebrations, particularly mentioning those who have travelled from far away. You should make reference to the couple as well as the parents of the groom, but without making it feel like an impersonal box-ticking exercise. Try to find something personal to say. Perhaps about the things you’ve found in common or the friendship that’s developing. This all adds to the feeling of warmth and the joining of families.
But remember, the majority of your speech must be reserved for the star of the show – your daughter - and it’s down to you to find some special words to share about her. Talk about her as a little girl and the woman she has become. What are the things that make her special in your eyes? What stories can you share that highlight these? Pick the ones you know will get the rest of the room nodding along in agreement or laughing out loud.
Next say something about your new son or daughter-in-law. Be positive and offer your thoughts on them as a couple. And don’t forget the mother of the bride. Even if you are no longer together, this is an important day for them and one for which you must put differences aside, whatever they may be.
And finally, close with something profound. Forget the audience, this is a moment that your daughter will remember forever, so a great time to say, from the heart, what she means to you.
Final tip: Avoid marital advice – it never goes down well!
Tips for the best man or woman
Pressure is often worse for the best man (or indeed woman) as essentially their job is to be funny. So ease yourself in gently with a straightforward opening. Talk about how the wedding day has been great and compliment the bride and the bridesmaids.
Then it’s time to talk about the groom. Take note of the ‘what to include’ section above and try to tell one cohesive story that draws everyone in, taking the audience on a journey from the child they once were to the grown-up they’ve become.
The best man or woman’s speech is often humorous and some slightly ‘naughty’ stories are expected. But it’s important not to go overboard with this. Be respectful of who is in the audience - including Great Aunt Margaret.
Be aware that some of the more raucous stags and hens in the crowd might be keen to heckle you and put you off your game. Avoid this by reading our tips on how to handle these disruptions with ease and grace.
Another thing to avoid is mentioning exes - this is not a time for people to be thinking of either the bride or groom with anyone other than the person they’ve just married. Anything that paints either one of them in a genuinely negative or shameful light should also be avoided.
Close with a last summing up line and a toast to the happy couple - a finishing thought to wrap up your speech like a beautiful ribbon.
Tips for the groom
As the groom, you have it fairly easy when it comes to the speech. You don’t need to make anyone laugh, but it’s still just as important to plan what you’re going to say.
Start by thanking your new father-in-law and your parents and say something complimentary about them. Don’t be tempted to go in with the mother-in-law jokes – this definitely isn’t the time.
Next, the most important bit - an ode to your new wife. This is where you get to really open your heart and show those friends and family members gathered exactly how much she means to you. After all, that is the point of a wedding - to declare your commitment in front of witnesses.
Remember, your audience - including your bride - want real emotion. That doesn’t mean you have to be someone you’re not, but do dig deep to find the truth of how you feel and don’t be afraid to share it. Think about what made you fall in love with her and what you’re most looking forward to in your future.
Close simply with a final toast that makes all the relevant people - your bride, her bridesmaids, even the guests - feel special, and sets everyone up to party the rest of the night away.
How to deliver a wedding speech like you’ve been public speaking for years
Of course, giving a wedding speech isn’t just about saying the right thing. It’s about delivering it in the right way. And if you’re not used to public speaking that can be utterly terrifying. It's worth remembering that even the most well known public speakers were not born naturals. Even TED speakers get trained in how to speak so that people want to listen. So don't be discouraged, we've got some simple and actionable tips to help you:
Use notes where you need them
Very few people are able to speak completely without notes, unless they’ve had many years of experience in front of an audience. So if you don’t feel inclined to learn your wedding speech by heart, then don’t – it’s not worth the risk of floundering or forgetting. Have a read of our tips for using notes when talking to an audience. In summary though, your goal is connection with your audience, so if you plan to use notes, make sure they don’t get in the way of this. If possible, use cue cards rather than verbatim notes. Cue cards give you a prompt for each section of the speech and helping you remember the punchline of jokes.
But if you’re simply feeling too nervous and are worried you won’t remember what you need to say, then, in the case of a wedding speech, simply read it off the page. Just remember to include plenty of pauses for applause and laughter, and to give ample eye contact. Do that and it can still be absolutely brilliant.
To prepare your notes in such a way that they give you the best possible chance of connecting with your audience use a large font with separate paragraphs. Highlight key words and any punchlines so you can see at a glance where you’re going with your ideas.
Don’t ignore your audience
Delivering a speech should never be simply reading from a piece of paper. Regardless of your use of notes, make sure you take your time. Make eye contact to help deliver your message. Particularly if you mention a group of people in the room – look towards them and engage directly. If you make a joke, allow time for laughter to die down and smile in appreciation. There is no need to rush, the disco will wait.
Use your body to emphasise parts of your speech
Open yourself up to your audience by keeping your stance relaxed and your arms open. Use your hands to emphasise key points if you can. Even if you are holding notes, try not to let that interfere with movement. Using gestures actually helps to relax your mind and body. Take a look at these tips to help you overcome presentation nerves.
Project your voice
You might want to consider borrowing some tools to warm up your voice like a professional. Make sure you’re heard by choosing someone in the middle row and speaking to them. ‘Intend’ your voice. Speak slower and clearer than you otherwise would and pause in between sentences to allow your audience to digest your message. And we have plenty of tips to help you to practice speaking more eloquently.
Some things that are best avoided in a wedding speech
Check back in on that goal to make the bride and groom’s special day even more special and avoid anything that is likely to go against this.
Don’t drink too much or swear too much. Don’t make sexual innuendos or references to exes. Try to avoid cruel or insulting remarks or stories that are liable to make anyone look bad. Stay positive in the stories you choose and in all things build up your loved one so that they can look back on the memories of your speech with a smile.
Happily ever after…
What’s the most important thing to portray in a wedding speech? Do your best to deliver a speech that is authentic and shows your love for the couple and your determination for them to enjoy their day. That way you can avoid contributing to the statistic that 50% of wedding guests say a bad wedding speech almost ruined the day.
Good luck - remember that you’re among friends, they want you to do well and, even if you do slip up, if you take it in your stride, make a joke out of it if you can and then hit the bar!
Next, why not read our Ultimate Guide to public speaking and presenting, packed with simple and actionable tips to help you improve your communications skills before the big day.
Would you like some 1-on-1 professional help with your speech for an upcoming wedding? Get in touch to find out about our Wedding Speech Coaching course.