So you’ve been asked to say a few words on the big day and are feeling the pressure? Spare a thought for Prince Harry, who had the duty of delivering the Best Man’s speech at ‘the wedding of the century’!
Although your wedding is unlikely to be on the scale of William and Kate’s, (thankfully sparing you the experience of having your words evaluated by Elton John!) making a speech is still a nerve-racking experience for most people. Besides the fact that public speaking ranks #1 on the list of most common fears, there is added pressure on the speaker due to the wedding speeches being one of the most anticipated moments of the big day. A great speech can be treasured years or even decades later, as family and friends recall the particular sentiment that moved them to tears or the anecdote that caused them to burst out laughing. The thought of a room full of people waiting for you to adequately express the importance of the day, the affection and devotion that the couple have for each other and the significance of the union between two families can make the most confident public speaker feel jittery. Not to mention the challenge of staying appropriate and appealing to a demographic aged seven to 70! However, don’t let that discourage you. A poignant moment at the speech podium is achievable with preparation, planning and practice. Here are our best tips.
WHO, WHAT AND WHEN
An understanding of wedding speech etiquette will assist you in knowing exactly what to say, when to say it and what elements to incorporate.
WHO ARE THE SPEECH MAKERS?
Wedding speeches tend to follow a set order. Traditionally, they begin with a speech by the bride’s father, followed by the groom, and then rounded off by the best man. The rules however, have relaxed in recent times. Additional speakers such as the bride and the chief bridesmaid are more and more common, as is a rearranging of the speech order. It is up to the bride and groom to decide who should speak and when, adapting the traditions to suit the specific needs of their celebration. Catherine, 32, and Adam, 33, decided to ask their best man, Michael, to speak first. ‘Michael is a lecturer, so he’s very comfortable getting up in front of a crowd and commanding silence. After the excitement of the day, it was great to have someone who could easily settle everyone down and deliver a thoughtful, entertaining speech to the guests whilst being completely comfortable. His ease convinced the more nervous speakers-to-be that their audience was wellwishing.’ Many couples choose an MC (Master of Ceremonies) to introduce the speakers and ensure that the speeches flow easily.
WHEN ARE THE SPEECHES MADE?
Although the timing of speeches varies in relation to the respective customs and religion of the bridal couple, they traditionally take place after the meal and before the bridal waltz. Another option is to schedule the speeches for before the meal, once the receiving line has ended and everyone has been seated. Many brides and grooms prefer this, as it lessens the chances of a ‘sloshy speech’ (i.e. rambling, tipsy speeches) being made. Also, if there are speakers who are particularly nervous, the ‘big moment’ is out of the way early on, leaving them to enjoy the meal instead of having their appetites ruined through anxiety. Another option is to stagger the speeches throughout each course, which can provide entertainment throughout the meal.
WHAT SHOULD BE SAID AND WHO TOASTS WHOM?
However the bride and groom choose to arrange the order of speakers, here is a general guideline for the running order.
Father of the Bride
The father of the bride generally begins by thanking the wedding guests for their attendance and publicly welcomes the groom to the family. He acknowledges those who have financially contributed to the wedding. Formalities aside, the heart of his speech is a tribute to his daughter – reflections on her positive characteristics, her pre-wedding years and her relationship with the groom. The father of the bride can also offer some advice on marriage. In a modern wedding, this is the point where he might invite the Mother of the bride to speak with him. The speech is then concluded with a toast to the bride and groom.
The groom thanks the father of the bride for the toast and his daughter’s hand in marriage. He thanks his own parents and those involved in the organisation of the wedding. Like the father of the bride, he thanks all guests for their attendance. If the bride has chosen not to speak, the groom will state that the thanks are on behalf of both himself and his wife. A sizeable portion of the speech is then devoted to his new bride and the significance of the day. The groom ends with a toast to the bridesmaids.
If the Bride chooses to speak (which is becoming commonplace at most modern weddings) she will generally speak after the Groom. The Bride’s speech offers the opportunity to thank anyone who may not be mentioned in the traditional speeches, but may have played a significant part in the preparations for the day. The Bride will thank her parents, family in law and bridesmaids for their support. This can be a lovely opportunity to hail out the bride’s mother and for the Bride to reflect on their special relationship. The Bride usually speaks about her groom and will then make a toast. The recipient of the toast is unspecified and many brides choose to toast their husband.
The Best Man’s speech is one of the most anticipated and attentively listened-to speeches, as its generally expected to be humorous – both a toasting and a slight ‘roasting’ of the groom. If the Best Man’s speech follows the groom’s, he will thank the Groom for the toast to the Bridesmaids and offer a compliment to them. He will then talk about his friendship with the groom. Some light-hearted teasing is common and most best men will take the chance to relay a few funny and slightly embarrassing stories. Prince Harry said that he wanted his speech to ‘make Will lose some hair!’ The Best Man will then speak of the bride favourably and congratulate the newlyweds, offering up a toast to the happy couple.
The head Bridesmaid may take the opportunity to speak at this point. As with the bride’s speech, there is scope for creativity in terms of the content. The Bridesmaid may
choose to thank the grooms. Given her intimacy with the bride, she will often have some lovely insights to share about her friend’s courtship – perhaps the moment the bride knew he was ‘the one’ or her early childhood notions of ‘the perfect man.’ The Bridesmaid will usually reflect on the couple’s suitability, before offering up the final toast to the Bride and Groom.
THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF PREPARING AND PRESENTING YOUR SPEECH.
Preparation and planning
• DO try to stay positive about your role from the outset. Seeing your speech as a meaningful gift you can give to the couple will help you approach the task appropriately and efficiently.
• DON’T leave it to the last minute. Experts recommend at least 3 weeks of preparation and practice is required to deliver a spellbinding speech.
• DO spend time doing your research. The Bride and Groom’s friends and family can often provide highly original material – a phone call or an email asking for stories may result in a little known anecdote that perfectly demonstrates the Bride and Groom’s suitability.
• DON’T generalise – the best wedding speeches emphasise the uniqueness of the Bride and Groom and their union. Instead of saying ‘Alex is an incredibly kind guy, which is one of the reasons he’ll be a great husband’ – try to relay a story that demonstrates how kind Alex is.
• DO stick to your style. If you are more stand-up comic than sentimental, then it’s wise to avoid a lacklustre poetry reading. Think of your speech as a conversation, you want to keep things natural.
• DON’T get inappropriate – a description of the naughtier hen’s party gifts probably won’t amuse Great-Aunt Edna and jokes about the groom’s ex girlfriend will only earn you a glare from the bride. Aim for an inclusive, good spirited atmosphere.
• DO structure your speech – like an essay, you want to have a clear beginning, middle and end to avoid trailing off aimlessly. Aim for a speech of 3-5 minutes, incorporating the required thank you’s, at least three examples or anecdotes demonstrating the couple’s suitability or affection for each other, and ending it with a clear toast.
Practice makes perfect
• DO practice your speech in front of an audience beforehand, whether that be your best friend or a family member. This will get you comfortable with presenting your speech, as well as allowing you to get valuable feedback.
• DO double check your speech has all the essential elements – have you included everyone you must thank? Does it refer to the previous speaker? Do you know how to pronounce the names mentioned?
• DO write yourself some notes to refer to on the big day. Even if you think you can wing it, note cards with the main points can be a lifesaver if nerves momentarily get the best of you.
Presenting your speech
• DON’T psych yourself out by assuming everyone will be hyper-critical– the wedding guests are willing you to do well. As you wait to give your speech, visualise yourself finishing your toast and receiving a big round of applause.
• DO focus on the meaning behind the words, not just relaying your speech verbatim. You’ll create a more moving experience for your audience this way.
• DON’T rush it. There’s nothing worse than a beautifully written speech rendered indecipherable due to lightningfast execution. The audience has been waiting to hear you, so make sure you pause in the appropriate places. If you aren’t afraid of silence, you’ll look confident.
• DO smile and pay attention to body language. Nervous fidgeting or a stressed expression will take away from the sentiment of the speech.
• DO finish strongly, bringing your speech to a close with a definite toast – whether that be ‘to the happy couple’ or ‘to the bridesmaids!’ Raise your glass high and celebrate – you did it!