The Ultimate Guide to Your Wedding Speech

Written originally for Hitched.co.uk, this article is for anyone giving a wedding speech!

You promised yourself you wouldn’t let this happen. Not after last time: the famous ‘Scarborough Speech’. God, what a nightmare that was. Jeremy still doesn’t look you in the eye. But at least people remember it. At least it’s talked about. You were at a dinner party once, and someone who hadn’t even been there started telling the story. The guests didn’t even laugh, they just held they heads in their hands and groaned. You didn’t touch your profiteroles after that. Still, it wasn’t entirely your fault. People shouldn’t be so thin-skinned. I mean, if a tree falls and nobody’s there to hear it, did it even fall at all?

Prudence would never forgive you either. You’re already on a final final warning. She’d probably go back to Guillaume The Yoga Teacher, and you’ve already worked so hard to destroy her opinion of him. No. Can’t happen again. Won’t happen again. You decide to call in the speech cavalry. An old school friend. His name is Bernstein. Lawrence Bernstein. And he’s a professional speechwriter. Here’s what he tells you.

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Lawrence’s Ultimate Wedding Speech Tips

Planning & Vision

When writing a speech, it can be tempting to grab a pen, sit down, and hash it out all in one go. But taking the time to do some research, to amass all the information you might need to draw upon, will make a huge difference to the final product.

Before you start writing, you should establish the following:

  • Where will you be speaking?
  • When will you be speaking?
  • What order will the speeches run in?
  • What will the age range of the audience be?

It might sound like basic stuff, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t even consider these practical factors. However, getting this out the way will enable you to do the bulk of your preparation with a clear goal developing.

At this early stage, it’s also important to think about the kind of topics that will appeal to your audience. It will allow you to tailor your speech to best fit the occasion. Writing a Groom speech is different from a Best Man Speech. And, writing a Best Man speech is – except in very worst incidents of misjudgement – very different from writing a Father of the Bride Speech.

So establish what you want your speech to do, as it will provide the framework for the next stages.
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Gathering your information

Having established an overall vision for your speech, you’re ready to begin gathering information.

You might be speaking at your own wedding, or at someone else’s wedding, but chances are you have only known the bride/groom for part of their life. There might well be sides to them you haven’t seen, and chapters in their life you weren’t around for.

So where to go to gather the scandalous stories, or heart-warming anecdotes that will lift your speech up to the next level? You might want to try the following:

  • Parents: for childhood stories
  • Siblings: for their own take on the early years.
  • Fiancé: for first impressions!
  • Friends: for the memorable stories that family might be completely oblivious to.

Once you’ve decided how you want your speech to be, and gathered as much information as you can, it’s time to move onto the 3rd step.

Building a speech

While all successful wedding speeches will look and sound completely different, they usually have certain key features in common: structure, theme, and balance

1. Structure

As a starting point, you should decide on a structure for the speech. The aim of is to determine a flow for your speech that the content will to drop into. There are an infinite variety of structures one might use, but the most important thing is to decide on what works for this particular speech, at this particular wedding.

Tip: Remember to make sure you know who’s speaking before you, and who’s speaking after you. That will determine who you follow from: who you might need to introduce, and whether or not you need to raise a toast.

2. Theme

The best speeches usually have a theme. Choosing a central theme will allow to create speech which flows seamlessly from section-to-section. Here’s an example:

You’re Best Man to Gaz, a friend from University. Gaz has always fancied himself as a bit of an international man of mystery. Suave. Well travelled. Into flash cars. And up until recently, he hasn’t looked like settling down.

So what theme could we use as the basis of our speech? Well, there are plenty of options, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with James Bond.

A rough outline of an imaginary speech:

  • Thank the groom
  • Introduce theme (he thinks he’s James Bond, I think he’s Austin Powers).
  • His Bondesque career as an Estate Agent. Or is it just a cover…?
  • What do his family think?
  • Was he a 00 in the making at University?
  • His not so Bond-like incidents
  • What does the bride think? Is she a Bond-girl or a Moneypenny?
  • Why they make such a wonderful couple
  • Toast

Employing a central theme gives a sense of continuity to your speech. Whether you’re talking about his early years, or his relationship with the bride, you will be coming at it from the same direction. This will help you to achieve the aim of moving seamlessly from one section to another.

3. Balance

It’s important you determine what balance to strike between humour and sincerity.

The best wedding speeches have both. One without the other dramatically increases the chance that your speech falls flat. All you need to decide whether it’s 80% humorous and 20% sincere or, for example, 30% percent humorous and 70% sincere, for example.

The First Draft

Once you’ve decided on a structure and theme for your speech, you can begin writing a first draft with a very clear idea of what you’re going to say. It’s worth noting that a speech is to be spoken! So there are a few things you can do to ensure that what you’ve written will come across well when delivered on the big day:

  • Use short, punchy sentences. 6 to 8 words is ideal.
  • Break up longer sentences.
  • Don’t be afraid to use Remember, this isn’t an essay.
  • Type each section of your speech This will help you from getting lost!
  • Read sentences aloud after you have written them.
  • Check your word count: 500 words, delivered at the right pace, should last 5 minutes

Once you’ve written that first draft, you’ve done the hard part! Assuming you don’t have to deliver the speech tomorrow, take a day or two off, and come back to it with a marker pen and a keen eye. Read it through again with fresher perspective:

  • Any excess, unnecessary words? Get rid of them.
  • Is there seamless flow between sections of the speech? If not, try and find a way to link them.

Having determined a vision for your speech, and then written a first draft, you can ask yourself: to what extent do they match up? How far removed is this first draft from the speech you had in your head? Which parts work, and which parts are less successful? These questions will help you to establish what might need to be done to really bring the speech up a notch or two!

Practice, Practice, Practice

A successful speech depends on a good delivery as well as the words on the page. Practice is essential.

Reading the speech silently in your head doesn’t count as practice. The best thing to do is to recreate the speech conditions as closely as possible.z

  • Stand up. Face your audience, look up, and pull your shoulders back. Good body language will engage the audience before you’ve even opened your mouth.
  • Read the speech aloud. And that doesn’t mean simply recite it. Go for it! Emphasize key words, and pause for effect at appropriate moments.
  • Practice holding a microphone. And if you don’t have a microphone, use a banana, carrot, tube of toothpaste, anything!
  • Ask a friend, family member or lover to watch you deliver your speech. If at all possible, doing it in front of someone will help you immeasurably on the big day.

Delivery and Presentation

People often ask whether they should learn their speech off by heart, read it off the page, or reduce it to bullet points?  (We cover this and a number of other public speaking nightmares here).

The risk of delivering from memory is obvious. Furthermore, it might well come off as flat, because your main concern will be remembering the lines! It’s an unnecessary measure that won’t help you on the big day.

You’re much better off reading your speech, but knowing it so well that you don’t have to keep your eyes glued to the text from start to finish.

We recommended printing your speech onto A6 cards. The problem with A4 papers is twofold: it’s easy to get lost, and if you’re a bit nervy, everyone will see them shake in your hands.

With A6 cards, you can break up your speech: each card should contain a separate section of the speech. This will help you pace yourself, and stop you from getting lost.

Don’t rush! When we’re nervous we have a tendency to speak as fast as possible. When delivering a speech, nervous or not, you should be aiming to speak at a rate of 100 words a minute.

Pro tip: Remember to give a spare set of cards to a friend, just in case you drop them before or during the speech!

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That night at home, you sleep soundly for the first time in weeks. The memory of the Scarborough debacle no longer hangs over you like a sword of Damocles. You wake up the following morning with a spring in your step and wave to Doris next door for the first time since Hedgegate. This really is possible.. Hell, as long as you follow Lawrence’s advice, you might even enjoy it.

To discuss how we could help you with your next speech, please call Lawrence on 020 8245 8999 or email us.

The Speech isn’t everything!

We appreciate that you are here for a specific reason: the speeches  And hopefully you’re finding the site useful.  However, as much as we think wedding speeches can make or break the day, there are a few other things that matter!

Our friends at Hitched have created a very useful set of links to help you with the rest of the planning process.  (you may have arrived via this page!).  They range from proposing to finding a venue and even changing your name afterwards!

It’s a very useful (and well designed) page and many of our clients have found it helpful.

In the meantime, please click here if you’d like to focus on the wedding speeches!

Hitched