Don’t make her angry!

Don't make her angry!

As I'm getting married next month*, I thought I'd make a slight diversion from the normal topics, and give others that may have to stand up on someone's wedding day to give a speech a bit of advice. In all honesty, if only one person reads this, then as long as it's my Best Man I feel my time writing it will have been well invested!

Don't be fooled....
For those of you that are good at giving presentations, you can often be lulled into thinking that a speech is pretty much the same thing. It isn't. The delivery skills may be very similar, but the key difference is that a speech should be word perfect, and that can catch the most accomplished of presenters out. Add in the fact that you're speaking at a wedding, and suddenly the content is also much more important to get right. No one wants to be 'that guy that made the bride's mum cry'! So, here are my top tips to getting it right:

Start early
If ever you've seen anyone give a cracking speech, particularly at a wedding, I guarantee you that it was the result of a lot of out-loud practise (we'll come on to that later). To give yourself the time for all that practising, you need to get the thing written as early as possible. The great news is, if you're giving a speech at a wedding, you're most likely a) the Groom, b) the Best Man, or c) the Father of the Bride. Any of which will mean that you should know your subject matter pretty well, so you won't be at any disadvantage in writing it early.

Be personal
I should probably qualify that comment - I don't mean it's time to start ripping into people, but rather that I think it's your job to ensure that it's your speech, not one that you copied off of the internet. It's very easy these days to find sites that give you countless example speeches, many of which are brilliant. The temptation therefore, particularly if you don't feel like you're very creative, is to crib from these ready-made versions. The problem you have, is that it will sound very generic (because it is!). This is your chance to really make it mean something to the people it's about, so by all means look around for some inspiration and ideas, but then put those aside and actually write the thing yourself. The best speeches I've ever seen are always the really personalised ones.

What if I'm not naturally funny?
The good news is, unless you're the Best Man, you don't have to be funny at all. Heart-felt speeches by the Father of the Bride, Groom, and Bride (if you're going non-traditional) are perfectly acceptable, and probably better than a gag-fest. A little bit of humour is fine if you so choose, but do remember the purpose of what you're saying.
If you are the Best Man, then like it or not, everyone expects you to be at least a little bit funny. The good news is, you don't have to be funny yourself, you can let your speech do that for you. Think about all the situations you know the Groom has been in (particularly any pertaining to his fledgling relationship to the Bride) - many of those will be comedy gold and all you need to do is find a way of re-telling it. Clearly though, some rules apply to this (and this is where I hope my Best Man is reading this!). You shouldn't say anything that will:

  • Embarrass the bride
  • Offend anyone (that story about the stripper is definitely out!)
  • Make the guests think that the Groom is actually a total git!
  • Refer in anyway to the Groom's past relationships

As a Best Man, your speech should gently poke fun at the Groom (with some mildly embarrassing stories being a great way of adding the humour, without you having to be 'funny'), but not forgetting you're also there to offer genuine warmth towards your friend and his new Bride.

Get a second opinion
If in doubt, ask a friend to have a read of your speech, or even better, listen to you give it, and then ask for their advice. They don't even have to be connected to the wedding, but hopefully a fresh pair of eyes/ears will either give you the confidence that you've got it right, or give you some little tips on how to polish it up so it's 'match ready'.

Learning the damn thing
Once you've got it written, you've done the hard part. Now all you need to do is learn it to the point that you can deliver it well, even when you're nervous. I've shared these tips in a previous post, but it's still the best way I know:

Split the speech out into sensible chunks (short paragraphs are ideal).
Cut the speech up into those chunks and then mount them on individual bits of card (make sure to number the cards, otherwise if you drop them it could be interesting!)
Read the cards (out loud if possible) at every available opportunity.
Start testing yourself by looking at the first line of each card, and then seeing if you can remember the rest of it.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you're able to give the speech out loud without faltering, and only needing to glance down at the first line of each card.
Keep doing that until it becomes second nature.

This will take some time, but I promise you it's well worth it. You will be feeling nervous no matter who you are (I've spoken to groups of over a thousand people but I've always been really nervous before giving a wedding speech!), but if you know your speech like the back of your hand you shouldn't become TOO nervous.

Enjoy it!
When it comes to the actual delivery, remember you're a special part of a special day (whatever your role is), so remember to enjoy it. Resist the temptation to calm your nerves by drinking too much beforehand (that never ends well!), and then when it's your turn, stand-up and give it your best. If you have the odd little stutter, don't sweat it, have a little glance at your notes, smile, and get back on track. Unlike a business presentation, the 'audience' are very much on your side, and unless you've broken any of the golden rules above (I'm talking to you Best Men!) you can be safe in the knowledge that people will be very generous with their compliments afterwards.

For those of you giving wedding speeches soon, I hope this has been helpful. If you're not personally, but you know someone who is, why not forward this on and give them a little helping hand?

* written in Feb 2013 (and now happily married!)